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Archive for Leadership


Why People Resist Change

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I’m currently reading Tempered Resilience, by Tod Bolsinger, which includes this fabulous quote from the work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky:

“People do not resist change, per se. People resist loss. You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain.”

Therefore, when a leader proposes change in an organization, it should come as no surprise that the organization’s stakeholders will resist the change, not because it’s new or different, but because it threatens loss. People who are deeply invested in a church will often become enmeshed to the degree that it becomes their identity. Thus, change creates a loss of identity and even threatens their sense of personal power within the church. It’s not the additions that come with change. It’s the subtractions that come with change. Perhaps this is why churches can create new programs easier than discontinue old, ineffective programs.

Unfortunately, when people feel threatened due to the losses created by change they engage in sabotage. Tod Bolsinger writes, “Acts of sabotage are not the bad things that evil people do to stop good being done in the world. Acts of sabotage are the human things that anxious people do because they fear they are losing what little good is left in the world.”

He continues, “At times of crisis or crossroads of change, anxious relationship systems default back to what is known, believing that it is the only path to self-preservation and survival, even if it means returning to slavery (Exodus 16:3).”

If you’ve served in any kind of organization with any level of longevity, these words will ring true. So what should leaders who aspire to lead change do?

  1. Don’t take resistance personally. Resistance isn’t about you, or even the proposed change. It simply reveals something in nature of those who are resisting. It’s not easy to confess that change makes you feel insecure or threatens your sense of significance. It’s easier to sabotage the change or become adversarial to the leader(s). It’s only personal if you make it personal.
  2. Lead collaboratively. Leaders who want to take personal credit for the new idea will ensure they are the targets for personal attacks. The wise leader will lead collaboratively when introducing change, using whatever governance devices are available to depersonalize the initiative. Even if it’s the leader’s idea, some sabotage can be diffused by introducing the initiative through boards, committees or teams.
  3. Be patient. Leaders can legitimately see change as true no-brainers. But not everyone responds to charts and graphs, not matter how colorful they may be. People need stories that are rooted in the church’s history where they are reminded that change is part of their rich history and such changes have led them to that point. Be willing to communicate and present the idea until people are actually tired of hearing about it. Few things in life are communicated in one message.
  4. Be courageous. The white’s of their eyes matter, so go the second mile by sitting down knee to knee with those who are resisting the change. Give them the time of day. They matter to God, so they should matter to you. You may not win them to your cause, but you can care about them and empathize with the loss you are asking them to accept. And that’s not nothing.

Bolsinger’s book serves as a companion to the book, Failure of Nerve, by Edwin Friedman. If you find yourself in the crucible of leading change, I’d recommend you purchase both. They’re timely and timeless additions to your leadership library.

Categories : Books, Change, Leadership
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Canoeing the Mountains

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The year following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis to find the most direct and practical water route across the continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean for the purposes of commerce. For over 300 years explorers from at least four sovereign nations had been looking for a pathway that would lead from the Mississippi River all the way through the North America to the Pacific. Lewis was joined by Second Lieutenant William Clark and together formed the Corps of Discovery to under take the challenge from President Jefferson.

The Corps of Discovery began with a faulty assumption. Everyone was certain that the water route to the Pacific was there. All they needed to do was discover it. But they were wrong. There was no passage. When Lewis and Clark came to the end of the river they realized that nothing before them was like anything they had experienced that was behind them. There were no manuals, maps or journals that could help them. They literally marched off the map into the unknown.

What the Corps of Discovery learned over 200 years ago is what we are learning today in the life of our church. The world of ministry is not like anything we have experienced in the past. The cultural landscape has changed to the degree that our assumptions about reaching and serving are experiencing diminishing returns.

Today we are recognizing that many of the ministries we found to be effective in the past are no longer having the same impact today. Like Lewis and Clark, we must realize that we are marching into an age where our canoes may no longer help us reach our destiny. Like the Corps of Discovery, we are finding the need to trade our canoes for horses so that we can stay focused on the mission. Those who choose to love their canoes more than the mission will risk becoming stuck at the headwaters of the river and fail to reach the ultimate goal.

Tod Bolsinger shared this anecdotal story to form the motif of his book, Canoeing the Mountains. He uses this historical event to describe the type of adaptive leadership that is needed in the 21st century. It was written prior to the global pandemic, and coming out of the pandemic is more timely than ever.

Bolsinger suggests five characteristics every leader must possess in order to lead a congregation or organization in unchartered territory:

  1. Recognize you are in uncharted territory, and that the world in front of you is nothing like the world before you.
  2. No one will follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map. Competence and credibility on the map is required to develop the necessary trust to advance into the unknown.
  3. Adaptation is the key to leading in uncharted territory. Adaptation is the process of learning and loss. Once we realize the losses won’t kill us, we can embrace a growth mindset and learn.
  4. Adaptive leadership requires both collaborative relationships and navigating resistance. Today’s leader can no longer go it alone. Successful change is not achieved until the leader has survived the inevitable sabotage.
  5. Finally, everyone will be changed, especially the leader. Survival comes when the leader is willing to allow people to speak into his or her life that previously have gone unheard.

If Bolsinger’s book was important in 2015, it is invaluable in 2021. If you’re an organizational leader who is looking to lead into the dynamic future instead of being content with the static present, this book is a must read.

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11 Traits of the Best of the Best

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Today I finished an exceptional book by Jon Gordon titled, “Training Camp.” Its a leadership fable, written in the fashion of Ken Blanchard and Patrick Lencioni. The impact is tremendous. The fable that Gordon offers is built around 11 principles that help us move from good to great. Here’s the list:

1. The best know what they truly want.
2. The best want it more.
3. The best are always striving to get better.
4. The best do ordinary things better than anyone else.
5. The best “zoom-focus”.
6. The best are mentally stronger.
7. The best overcome their fear(s).
8. The best seize the moment.
9. The best tap into a greater power than themselves.
10. The best leave a legacy.
11. The best make everyone around them better.

Intrigued? Let me recommend this outstanding work to you. Its a quick and easy read that delivers incredible help to those who are tired of being average.

Categories : Books, Leadership
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Liberated Leadership

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“In his Pulitzer Prize winning book on leadership, James McGregor Burns offers advice to those faced with this dilemma: “No matter how strong the yearning for unanimity…(leaders) must settle for far less than universal affection… They must accept conflict. They must be willing an able to be unloved. The recognition that they will not be universally loved despite their best efforts may trouble leaders initially; however, once they come to accept that truth, it can be quite liberating.”

–from Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work, by Richard DuFour and Rebecca DuFour

Categories : Leadership
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Approval Versus Acceptance

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I am a part of a congregational church. With the exception of one Elder led congregation, I have always been a part of a congregational church. A congregational church government means that the membership sits atop the organizational chart, providing the final thumbs up or thumbs down to initiatives from subsets of the church. A congregational church may delegate some of the day to day decisions to the church staff or to a board, but reserve the “big” decisions for church wide business sessions.

A couple of things about that fact strike me as strange. For example, voting on issues always creates winners and losers. All in favor say “aye,” and all opposed say “nay.” Let’s count the votes and see which side has won and which side has lost. American politics reminds us that we have winners and losers every two years.

A second thing that is striking is that all votes are equal and count the same. The wealthiest member of the congregation gets one vote. The oldest member gets one, as do the youngest and newest members. Every member gets one vote. Just one. They’re not weighted, which is appropriate. Every time I step into a voting booth I am reminded of the fact that any other number of registered voters can cancel my vote. While this is striking, it works for America and it works for congregational forms of church government.

There is one more thing about voting that I find interesting. Voting is based on a model of approval and disapproval. If I approve of an initiative or a candidate, I can vote “yes.” If is disapprove, I can vote “no.”

So what happens if I “lose” the vote? What do I do if I find myself in the minority of the will of the people?

Whenever I am in the minority, I move from approval to acceptance. I don’t have to approve of the action of the majority to find a position of acceptance as a minority voice. You see, I am troubled when I see a celebrity look into a television camera and say, “If so and so is elected then I’m moving to (fill in the blank some other nation).” There have been plenty of elections when I didn’t “approve” of the majority opinion and my horse didn’t win, but I didn’t move to another nation. I remained a good citizen of my community, state, and nation. I paid my bills and my taxes. I exercised my right to vote in the next election. I didn’t approve, but I accepted the outcome.

One of the things those of us in congregational churches need to remember is that sometimes things are going to happen when we don’t “approve.” But for the sake of the whole, we can come to a point of acceptance. We can continue to faithfully serve, continue to give as instructed by Scripture, and continue to work to advance the cause of Christ by serving our community and living as a faithful witness. We don’t have to always “approve.” But we can learn to “accept,” for the sake of something bigger than our one vote.

Categories : Church, Leadership
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On Bullying

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There seems to be a lot of talk about “bullying” in the news lately. Parents frequently claim that their child has been bullied at school, and are frustrated that teachers and building administrators are not doing anything to prevent these abusive acts.

I recognize that our first response to this conversation could be to brush it off under the argument, “That’s the way its always been,” or “Who hasn’t been bullied at school?” We could also say that we were tougher back in the day and that today’s kids are too soft; needing thicker skin like those who walked “miles” to school in the snow.

It seems logical that we should expect those in authority to work to diminish the problem of bullying in all of its forms. However, the most recent research has revealed that the most effective deterrent to bullying is not a top down model where administration and faculty stop the problem. The most effective way to deter bullying is peer influence. That’s right, peer influence. It seems that if students want to deter or even eliminate bullying, they need to speak up and stand up to bullies on behalf of their peers whenever and wherever they witness bullying. And if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.

Administrators and faculty are paid to manage classroom behavior. Its their job. They may be able to stop a behavior, but may have little impact on shifting values. Peers, on the other hand, may be less effective in stopping a behavior, but could bear tremendous influence on shifting values and re-shaping a culture.

I wonder if the same could be said of the church?

Categories : Church, Leadership
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Why We Resist Change, part 2

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You’ve done the research. You’ve considered the options. You’ve communicated clearly and have covered all the bases. You’ve presented the benefits and the opportunities that the new change will provide and have given reasonable expectations for outcomes you hope the change will produce. It seems like a no brainer. So why is the recommendation met with resistance?

Over the last few years I’ve learned that sometimes people resist change, not because of the change itself, but because of the uncertain next step(s) that follows. The unspoken question among some congregants is, “If we do that, then what?”

If you present change as movement from point A to point B, not knowing point C will be a sticking point for some. Change for the sake of change uses a point A to point B with no certain following step(s). True transition is always a process with many purposeful steps. If you don’t have a point C, then maybe its best to wait on the change to allow time to develop clarity on the bigger picture. If you do have a point C, then I recommend letting your followers in on it, even if the picture is not fine tuned.

Categories : Church, Leadership
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Ministry Decision Filters

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Every church and its leadership is faced with choices. There are multiple decisions that are made every year that impact the future direction of the congregation. This weekend in worship I shared three questions that should serve as filters for every decision we face.

Filter #1: Are we being faithful to Christ and His Word?
I am a homeowner. After work I go to my house. Sometimes my wife and I will invite people to come to our house. But its really not my house. Every month I get a letter in the mail from my mortgage company that reminds me that they are the true owners of my residence. Though they rightfully own my house, I have a responsibility to care for it. I fix things that break. I pay for utilities and cut the grass. I decorate, furnish, insure and even pay taxes on it.

With that in mind, it’s not my church. It’s not your church. It’s not even our church. It’s Christ’s church. Sometimes we need a Vince Lombardi, “this is a football” kind of reminder of whose we are. I get that we will refer to the church as “my church,” but its good for us every now and then to stop and reflect on who really owns the Church.

Filter #2: Are we being faithful to the great commission?
Churches have invested a lot of time and energy to nuance and wordsmith elaborate mission statements that can be printed on the back of a business card or articulated on an elevator ride. They pursue brands, logos and icons that accompany the mission statement and serve as visible reminders of why they exist. All of that is to be commended as long as it reflects the great commission. Jesus did not delegate to us the responsibility of figuring out why we exist. Its his church and we must passionately pursues his mission and purpose for it. If anything we do does not reflect the great commission it should be viewed with suspicion if not altogether invalid.

Filter #3: Are we acting in the best interest of the whole?
Patrick Lencioni wrote a helpful book about silos, politics and turf wars. In it he describes the dangers that come upon any organization that operates independently versus interdependently. The desire for everyone to win and for everyone to be happy is completely understandable. But sometimes that’s not possible. Sometimes churches have to make decisions based on whats best for the whole, even if it comes at the expense of one or more parts.

Last year I led our church to make a change in our staffing structure. The decision allowed us to virtually double the time investment in our youth and children’s programming and at the same time freed up tens of thousands of dollars that could be reinvested in ministry. Unfortunately, not having an additional full time clergy on board increased my personal workload in the areas of pastoral ministry and administration. The decision I led the church to make was not best for me personally, but it was the right decision and the best decision for the whole.

There may be additional questions that serve as possible filters for ministry decisions. But I think these three are a good start. What filters do you have in place?

Categories : Church, Leadership
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5 Characteristics of Weak Leaders

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Here’s a great blog post from Michael Hyatt on 5 Characteristics of Weak Leaders. It’s worth 5 minutes of your time.

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The Advantage

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I like Patrick Lencioni, and have read the majority of the books he’s published. Two of them have been extremely helpful: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars. His latest work is titled, The Advantage—How to Develop Organizational Health. The short of it is that the most important metric for measuring ongoing organizational success is its health. While organizational health is not as snazzy as sales figures and other more discernable data, health is extremely important for an organization if it is going to remain viable and withstand the rapid shifts in our culture and economy. And, as the title suggests, healthy organizations maintain a strong advantage over those that are not healthy.

Lencioni offers four practical suggestions on how to develop organizational health that is beneficial to for profits and not for profits like churches.

The first discipline is to build a cohesive leadership team. Healthy teams are characterized as those where trust is forged through vulnerability and conflict is tolerated around important issues. Team members hold one another accountable for commitments as well as behaviors. Above all, each team member must place the organization above their own private interests.

The second discipline of the healthy organization is to create clarity so that everyone in unified around purposes, values, strategies, and goals. Clarity allows the leadership team to hold in common the significant matters of the organization and to align themselves accordingly. Communication is free because each member of the team is on the same page.

Once clarity is created the team works to over-communicate clarity. Clarity is not achieved until information is thoroughly passed along from the leadership team to the rest of the organization. Each member of the team must leave leadership team meetings with the intent to accurately articulate the six aspects of clarity to each employee.

Finally, clarity is reinforced by communicating the values, goals, purposes, and strategies of the organization to new employees. Those who don’t fit the mold are either coached up or moved out. Compensation and rewards are built around the values and goals of the organization.

I mentioned at the front of this post that I like Lencioni. His common sense approach and simple style make his coaching accessible to those of us who have yet to earn that M.B.A. Church leaders can benefit from The Advantage. His emphasis on communication within the framework of an organization is worth the price of the book.

Categories : Books, Leadership
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