Learning new dance steps as a leader

by | Feb 20, 2017 | Featured, Leaders, summit

We’ve found that adaptive leadership is essential to 21st century faith formation. We’ll be talking more about it at the Vibrant Faith Summit, but here is a sneak peak.

Adaptive leaders recognize that there are many ways to exercise leadership, and seek to increase their influence by expanding the scope and frequency of their leadership practices. As you review the several core practices mentioned below, make note of which ones show up most frequently and which ones might be underutilized. Five of these practices reflect the research found in the book, The Leadership Challenge by Barry Pozner and Jim Collins. The last two reflect critical gaps in leadership practices we’ve observed when coaching individuals, teams and congregations.

  1. Demonstrate the way for others. Be the change you’re seeking for others. Know what you care about and do what you say is important. Act with integrity. Be mindful of the Spirit’s work in your life. Be purposeful, prayerful, positive and proactive. Speak your truth in grace-filled ways. Be grateful and generous. Affirm shared values. Follow through on your commitments. Dare greatly and be willing to risk failure, Be the first person to make a pledge to your capital campaign. Find ways to personify the shared values of your organization.
  2. Inspire a shared vision. Do people know your hopes and dreams for your life and your ministry setting? Do you invite people into conversations about what they’d like to be different in their life, in their work settings, their community and their church? Do you ask people to share what’s on their bucket lists as well as what they want to leave as their legacy? Inspiring a shared vision is about inviting people to be dialogue partners in discerning what role we can play in fulfilling God’s dreams for the world. It’s about articulating our own version of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that fits us like a glove.
  3. Challenge the process. If you want better results, start asking better questions. If you want to improve, start inspecting your results. Instead of seeking incremental change, start thinking about exponential results. Challenge your assumptions, attitudes, and actions. Switch up your routines and see what happens. Ask yourself and others, “Is there a better way to achieve this outcome than what we’re doing now?” If you don’t like something, propose another pathway. Lead by proposal. Challenge the process by asking powerful questions related to purpose, priorities, practices and processes.
  4. Enable others to act. Thriving churches focus on having good strategies and good systems. They have systems in places to welcome, befriend and connect people to their faith community. They have systems for meeting people wherever they’re at in their faith journey and helping them grow as followers of Christ. They have systems to inspire people’s generosity related to the use of their time, talents and treasures. They have systems for managing finances and communicating and connecting with people. Inadequate systems are often the limiting factor that prevent us from fulfilling our mission. How might you improve your infrastructure so that you maximize people’s contributions and the impact your church has on its community? Building better systems leads to increased collaboration, better communication and the building up of people’s confidence and capacities. Effective systems enable us to be good stewards of all that God has provided. Systems help ensure that every event and experience we offer is engaging, relevant and transformational.
  5. Draw out people’s callings and contributions. Christian leadership involves helping people discover, develop and deploy their gifts every day, everywhere. Adaptive leaders help others embrace their giftedness and live into their vocation. In what ways and how often do you encourage the heart? Do you help people celebrate their short-term wins and reflect with them how God has been at work in their lives? How often do you say thank you through words of affirmation, written notes, token gifts, handshakes and hugs, and spending time together?
  6. Read your ministry landscape. How often have you heard someone say, “They took my words out of context?” Just as our words mean different things based on the context in which they were used, what we say and do as adaptive leaders will always be shaped by the context we find ourselves in. How your ministry unfolds will be different based on who YOU are and how you’re wired. Your words and actions will be different if you’re serving a family-sized church in a rural community verses a corporate size church in a growing suburb. Your words and actions will be different based on where your church is located on the “Life Cycle of An Organization” chart. Your ministry will unfold differently based on your church’s culture, its history, its theological underpinnings, it’s denominational affiliation and the changes taking place in its community. Your words and actions will be framed through the lens of changes taking place in society related to family structure, technology, social norms and values. Don’t assume that a program or practice that worked in another congregation is going to work in your setting. All ministry is contextual, every setting carries localized assumptions about faith and God, localized nuances about language, and its own history of heroes and enemies for your community. Every setting has a collective conscious of its successes and failures, and reflects and reinforces its community’s deepest hopes and fears. Before we can lead change, we must understand what is going on at and beyond our church. Take time at future meetings to observe and interpret the landscape you find yourself in.
  7. Select the right people. In the book, Good to Great, the authors remind us to get the right people on the bus and in the right seats. By not having the right people in place, the energy that could be channeled into productive and impactful experiences is bottled up by the dysfunction of one or more team members. It’s hard to position people for maximum impact if they have no desire to upgrade their skills, play well with others or do more than simply repeat what they’ve done for the past ten years. One of the greatest legacies a leader can leave their church are healthy leadership teams that are positive, proactive, prayerful and productive. How do we make sure that we select the right people who are mission-minded, result-oriented, collegial and collaborative, and have a growth-mindset?  Building on Patrick Lencioni’s work found in his book, The Ideal Team Player, I’ve been encouraging pastors to seek out team members who are humble (willing to learn and collaborate), hungry (seek results and are persistent), and smart (can read people and their environment). Who needs to get off the bus in your ministry setting? Who needs to find a new seat?

Which dance steps do you currently excel in, and how might you build upon these?  Which dance steps need further attention and development?

Learn more about how adaptive leadership is essential to 21st century faith formation at the Vibrant Faith Summit. We’re launching the summit April 25-27 in Minnesota, and then we’re available to come to your area!

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