Many leaders are devout cowards. Yes, I did just say that! I have said it for a number of years. I have had people challenge me on it, but at this point in time, I’m sticking by my guns. I must add though that when I say many leaders, I am thinking of leaders in churches where I have been involved in one way or another. Many (maybe most) of the leaders that I have been associated with have shied away from the tough conversations. They would rather quit and move on than deal with tough issues and difficult people.
I have seen more than my share of sloppy and unacceptable work in Christian ministry because leaders don’t want to lovingly and truthfully confront staff and volunteers. I have had leaders that I coach complain about the work ethic and standards of people who report to them, but don’t want to have the critical conversation, the difficult conversation, the value-changing conversation with said worker/team member. Sometimes people are let go and never told why because such a conversation would have been too painful and uncomfortable.
Some seem to play the hide-my-head-in-the-sand game, hoping it will disappear before they come up for air. Others live in total denial that there is a problem; can’t believe there’s a problem; don’t want to believe there’s a problem; would rather move on than face the problem (many do.)
Christian churches and organizations are being ripped apart by not dealing with a problem person or by not resolving conflicts. Still others have no experience or model in dealing constructively with conflict that is costing them, or may cost them, their leadership edge.
Recently, I read of a father who was the CEO of a company that employed his son who was being groomed to eventually take over the company. On a particular day, the father saw his son berating an employee in public in a totally unacceptable way that violated company values and human decency. The father immediately invited his son to his office and told him that he wore two hats, boss and father. The father went on to say, I am now putting on my boss hat and telling you that you are fired, as we have talked about this behavior of yours numerous times. After having said that, the CEO then told the son that he was now putting on his father hat and said to his son, “Son, I understand you just got fired, how can I help you?”
“If you love confrontation then most likely you are a rear end that nobody likes!!! Confrontation is not fun…but is completely necessary if a church is going to maximize its potential and reach as many people as possible. Reality is that if you are at a leadership table and you disagree with something mentally then you have an obligation to disagree verbally—period! Not in a mean spirited or unkind way, but with a humble and sincere approach.” Perry Noble
Here are two key verses that give me a great deal of insight in keeping a balance between love and truth.
“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
“Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.” Proverb 20:28 The Message.
I don’t want to be so truthful that I am not loving, but on the other hand, I don’t want to be so loving that I am not truthful.
Here are four practical thoughts as you seek to be lovingly truthful in your ministry.
1. Pray for the courage to confront and collide
Always a good place to begin is to pray for courage and wisdom to exhibit tough love when it is necessary and not shirk the responsibility.
2. Avoid either/or and maintain both/and
It is almost never a matter of being loving or being truthful, but being both loving and truthful as to what you say, when you say it and how you say it.
3. Organizational culture affects a willingness to have the tough conversations
Some organizational and church cultures make it more or less difficult to have honest conversations. With His help we want to build cultures that are safe and open, where sharing what you perceive to be the truth will not be held against you. We want to build cultures where you don’t have to walk on eggshells, constantly looking over your shoulder.
“When vulnerability-based trust exists, team members say everything that needs to be said, and there is nothing left to talk about behind closed doors. If team members are not making one another uncomfortable at times, if they’re never pushing one another outside of their emotional comfort zone during discussions, then it is extremely likely that they’re not making the best decisions for the organization.” Patrick Lencioni
4. It won’t get easier if you wait to say the hard things
Waiting for the best time or a better time is generally a waste of time. The longer you wait to have the honest conversation, the harder it will be and the more reasons you will come up with for not having the conversation at all.
Where are you in all of this? Love to hear from you.