If you are a leader you, hopefully, want to be the best you can be for Jesus in the roles and responsibilities he allows you to have. You will want to continue to grow so as to take your leadership to the next level.
Here is one of my favorite verses that instructs us about working with concepts that are in tension with each other. Concepts that (if not paid attention to) can hinder us from going to that next level of fruitfulness and productivity.
“It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes or will follow them both.” Ecclesiastes 7:18 (NIV)
There are ideas in Christian leadership (and in the Christian life) that call for doing or believing one thing, but not at the expense of, or to the neglect of, the another. It's so easy to fall off the horse on one side or the other instead of staying upright and riding straight ahead.
Here are seven such tension points that need our attention if we are to take our leadership to the next level.
1. Speaking the truth while being loving
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Ephesians 4:15 (ESV).
“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” -Warren Wiersbe
I have known leaders who are very loving but are afraid to really speak the truth when it is called for. They don’t want to upset others or to hurt anyone’s feelings in any way. That is not biblical leadership.
Others are truth-tellers to the nth degree, but don’t do it in a loving way. Paul makes it clear in Acts 20:20,27 that he didn’t hold anything back that needed to be said which would benefit others. He was not fearful of speaking up and speaking out; but he did it in such a way that it could be received and profited from.
2. Confronting while being considerate
As leaders, it is our responsibility to confront people. It might be an issue of unrepented sin of which everyone is aware but nobody wants to do anything about. It could be attitudes/behaviors that are not sinful per se, but that don’t sync with the values of the organization.
These difficult conversations need to take place and they go with the territory of leadership. It was Harry Truman who said: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” The “kitchen” of leadership includes having the difficult and uncomfortable conversations.
But this doesn’t mean that you have to be nasty when doing it. You can confront someone and, at the same time, do it in a kind, considerate and gracious manner. It's not always easy; especially if you are upset or angry with the person; but it's possible when you pray about it and lean into the power of the Holy Spirit during those difficult conversations.
3. Holding people accountable while giving freedom
I have come to the conclusion that, at times, what a leader views as holding people accountable is actually perceived and experienced as micromanagement which is, generally, not well received. I think the key here is to have agreed-upon goals and expectations and then leave the methods up to the individual. Let the employee or volunteer use his/her own method(s) and personality to accomplish what is agreed upon. You need to be able to trust the person you have hired or brought on as a volunteer to do what you‘ve asked them to do. If you don’t trust them, don’t ask them. You obviously want to have people who possess the capacity, gifts, passion and experience to do what you’ve asked them to do. If they don’t , don’t ask them. Doing something else first for a while in order to have them demonstrate certain qualities before they get tossed into the deep end of the pool of responsibility is the path to take.
4. Challenging while being realistic
It’s a good thing to challenge people to step a little beyond what they think they can do. Jesus did this with his disciples, coaches do this with their teams. Tutors do this with their pupils. However, what you are challenging them to do cannot be so far beyond what is reasonable that they are overwhelmed and can’t see themselves possibly accomplishing it. Challenging but doable is the balance you want to achieve.
5. Evaluating while encouraging
I have been (and, more than likely, you have been as well) on the receiving end of the infamous “Yearly Progress Review.” Some of them have been good; but, frankly, most of them have left me feeling discouraged and hopeless. I now have a list of things I suck at and need to change with very little support from my supervisor and very little focus on what I may have been doing right. These reviews are very one-sided with not a lot of opportunity to ask questions or get some help.
First of all, these reviews need to be happening regularly, not once a year as many of them are. Secondly, I (and most others) need lots of encouragement and affirmation from those who lead us. A sure-fire way to lower morale is to have the reviews be like a shredding machine. A pat on the back goes a lot farther than a kick in the pants.
6. Leading while not domineering
As leaders, we are clearly warned in 1 Peter 5:3 to not domineer but to lead by example. About three years ago, I posted a blog about “Domineering Leadership” with some excellent thoughts by Sam Storms. Please consider reading this, as Sam does an incredible job of fleshing out this concept in very practical and helpful ways. “Not domineering” is especially hard for those leaders with very strong personalities and very firm convictions. They need a gray crayon in their box!
7. Delegating while being responsible
Delegating is not abdicating. Delegation needs to happen in a thoughtful and incremental way. One of the earliest examples of good delegation is found in Exodus 18:13-27. It's old advice but is as relevant as anything I have read in leadership literature. True and healthy delegation has a clear outcome in mind and leaves the person delegated to with no doubt as to what has been delegated. Regarless of what you delegate, as the leader, are still ultimately responsible. You don't wash your hands of responsbility when you delegate. Delegate or Suffocate is a piece I wrote almost two years ago on this topic.
So, have at it. Rather than tackling all seven at once, how about picking one or two that strike at a current need in your leadership and begin discussing it with your team. Taking it one step further, ask the team you lead how they feel you are doing on these seven. Are you secure enough in Jesus to handle honest and helpful feedback?