Leadership is a topic that interests most everyone, but few master it. We know that leaders are important to organizations, but also know that there are many dynamics at play that make organizational life complex. How does leadership happen in complex, dynamic situations where much of what has worked in the past no longer has the same effectiveness? I want to introduce you to five of the most counterintuitive elements related to effective leadership in such contexts.
1. Be a Lead Follower
Have you ever noticed how every leadership act in Jesus’ life was preceded by following? The gospel of John reminds us often that Jesus only spoke and acted in relationship to having heard from the Father. In John 15, Jesus invites us to abide in Him as our primary way of being just as He abides in the Father. What a marvelous invitation! If Jesus was a follower first, shouldn’t that also be true of us? What if every act of leadership in your life came from following Christ as you abide in Him? This would put our leadership in its proper place as we are truly lead followers when we lead others. It also highlights that as leaders we are always disciples first.
2. Tension Is Key
Many leaders see their primary role as alleviating tension and removing obstacles. What if tension is your greatest ally as a leader? Tension keeps us on our toes, and research indicates that it is critical for helping us move forward in creative ways. When I first began leading others and coaching churches through change, tension made me uncomfortable. Many leaders feel the same way. Over time I realized that without tension there is complacency, which is a primary enemy of transformation for us. Thus, tension can become your friend as a leader because it is the catalyst for transformation.
3. Create Environments
Tension is only productive in the right environment. Thus, in addition to being lead followers, the role of creating healthy and transformative environments is a critical role for Christian leaders. Many leaders overlook the importance of the environment in which they work and lead others. It is true, however, that the climate and culture of your organization is a primary determiner of whether your mission is effective. In his book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni indicates that trust, healthy conflict, high commitment, accountability, and a focus on results bring about healthy and productive team environments. He indicates that it is the vulnerability of leaders that prompts trust and that clarifying purpose and focus can bring about high commitment. I find that developing a covenant together as a team helps clarify shared expectations and commitment together and is critical for creating a transformative environment.
4. Facilitate Increased Interaction and Learning Together
The assumption is often made that leaders have solutions to everything. When leaders do not know what to do, too often they fake it. This represents the trap of the savior syndrome. If you are facing any challenges for which you do not yet have solutions, avoiding this trap will require you to facilitate interaction and learning among those you lead rather than coming up with solutions on your own. This is a humble approach that takes seriously the shared gifts among those you lead. It is counterintuitive, though, because your role as a leader shifts from the one who controls all decisions and information to a role of facilitating conversations and learning. As this shared learning accumulates over time, you will have the keys to overcoming those challenges.
5. Team Leadership – Interdependence
As you might have ascertained from the previous discussion, all of this will lead to a shared form of leadership. In the right environment, synergy can happen as tension is capitalized upon and shared learning accumulates. The result of this momentum is interdependence in a team. This, too, is counterintuitive because leadership is often associated only with positional leaders. If an organization relies solely on its positional leaders, the capacity to fulfill its mission is severely limited. A team approach to leadership takes seriously the important role that positional leaders play, but it also mobilizes the whole people within the organization. In a church context, if leaders are taking seriously their own discipleship together, these team environments can be explosive catalysts for transforming churches and the world.