In the last article on senior leadership teams, I talked about seven questions to identify who should be on the team. Once you’ve assembled the team, though, then the next opportunity is to create a culture that empowers these leaders. It does no good to invite leaders to be a part of your team if you’re not going to let them lead.
With that in mind, here are seven strategies to empower leaders to leverage their gifts and maximize the potential of your organization.
- Agree on the vision and values, and let your leaders make decisions. If the senior pastor has to make all the decisions and come up with all the new ideas, that’s an indication of micromanagement rather than empowerment. The objective is to push decision-making to the front lines of ministry. By clarifying vision and values and implementing systems that facilitate next steps, you can free people, both staff and volunteers, to engage ministry without having to wait for permission.
- Invite conflict privately. Demand unity publicly. It’s impossible to have unanimous agreement on every decision. The goal is not consensus — there will be rare instances, in fact, when leaders have to make tough calls and the majority of the people in the room think it’s the wrong decision. That’s leadership. At the same time, though, you have to create an environment where push-back or alternatives are welcomed, but unity is expected.
- Hold leaders responsible for outcomes rather than dictating the execution. As long as the execution fits within the framework of your vision, values and strategy, leaders should have freedom when it comes to the path from here to there. If you can’t trust them with executing the tasks, you have the wrong leaders. On the other hand, the expectations need to be quite clear. What’s the win? There should be no confusion over the expected outcomes.
- Determine what the team needs to process together and what you need to monitor together. What you want to avoid is the situation where every decision has to rise to the top of the organization. Your agenda should be action-oriented. There should be honest assessment of current numbers and trends. Your meetings should be relatively short and full of engaging conversation where everyone participates. If everyone isn’t needed in the conversation, that’s an indication you should be processing the decision in an email message or a sidebar conversation instead.
- Give leaders ownership and accountability. Managers wait for orders and then go make it happen. Leaders grow frustrated over time taking orders. You need both managers and leaders in healthy organizations. Leaders, though, want a voice setting the goals and establishing the strategy. They want real responsibility for building the team and setting direction. At the same time, though, everyone needs clear expectations and accountability.
- Invest time in the future rather than urgent. What’s the strategy for accomplishing your vision? Are you working as a team to move the ministry toward that vision? Analyze your meeting agendas or notes from recent months. Have you invested more time moving forward or putting out fires? Leaders can get addicted to the urgent (“killing cockroaches“) because the challenge is right in front of us and there’s immediate gratification when we fix it. It takes discipline to stay focused on the vision.
- Expect your team to look outside the organization for opportunities and threats. The culture around us is changing. People are changing. Families and communities are changing. Your “competition” is changing. The senior leadership team, in particular, has to look beyond the four walls or your organization to consider how your systems and strategies need to evolve over time.
Good leaders will leave your organization if they aren’t empowered to make decisions and lead. That means you get to decide who stays and who leaves. Are you embracing an approach that empowers leaders to be who God created them to be or is your approach pushing them away?
For those of you who consider yourself leaders, what would you add to this list? How are you best positioned to use your leadership gifts to accomplish your organization’s mission? Join the conversation by sharing your comment.
By the way, if you’re interested in reading more about my thoughts on leadership, you may want to download my eBook on Developing a Theology of Leadership.
Other articles in this series: