Updated: Nov 18, 2019
What are your thoughts on the subject of leadership?
Are leaders in charge? Are they the people who make the decisions and then tell everyone else what to do?
Is a leader the person on the platform, in the big corner office, being chauffeured in the motorcade, giving the TV interviews, calling the shots?
Maybe. There are aspects of leadership that have some of those elements, certainly. However, leadership is much more than being in charge. Anyone who thinks the tip of the iceberg they’re looking at is all there is to leading is in for a big shock should they venture that way themselves.
John Maxwell has famously said that at its most basic, leadership is influence. Having experienced leadership both personally and also as a mentor of scores of leaders, I totally agree with him. Whether it’s exhibited by disruption in the classroom, swaying the majority in a boardroom, or raising a coup against the reigning government, the one with the most influence is the one who is the leader. The reason is obvious.
People don’t follow a title. They follow a leader.
But how does a leader actually influence? In what way are they able to draw the support of the majority over to their standpoint?
The answer lies in communication. The ability to not just put across your point of view, but to communicate it in such a way that it becomes the point of view of the people who matter because they will be the ones to cast their (metaphorical) vote, is crucial for a leader.
Despite the fact that 2016 has proven to be a significant year in which governments are standing or falling, voting isn’t confined to the ballot box. People vote in all sorts of ways. In churches, they vote with their feet. If they are not able to connect with the pastor’s vision, they tend to look for another leader with a more clearly articulated vision. In charities, they vote with their money. If they don’t know what’s going on with their donations, they will lose interest and find another cause to support. In the working world, people who haven’t got buy-in to their organisation will look for another job. On a national level, some people emigrate to another country, others become dissidents.
Dissatisfaction with leadership in any context will eventually show up in the followers, no matter how loyal they were to begin with. No matter how worthy the cause, no matter how charismatic the leader, no matter how inspiring the vision, and no matter how strong the team base, people need ongoing communication in order to have buy-in, because what is at stake is their future, and that of their children.
The capacity to take people along with you as you develop whatever it is that you’re leading is what sets good leaders apart from average and mediocre leaders. Unless you’re willing to invest the time into imparting the vision into the people whose lives are integrally bound up in what you’re doing, you will lose them along the way.
Some leaders are not unhappy about this as it gets rid of people they are irritated by, but that is generally an incredibly short sighted perspective because whoever you lose has to be replaced in one form or another by someone else. That means beginning again with envisioning, a process which requires building relationship and trust. Though there are times in which it’s right for a team member to move on for their own sake or for the sake of the project, in many cases a leader would do well to work so effectively with their supporters that the team member does not even consider looking elsewhere for a more challenging or encouraging role.
If a leader is caught in a pattern of constantly weeding out potentially good and effective people who could help facilitate the success of their project, that great thing they envision will never come to pass. It will remain small and frail, forever subject to the leader’s own whims and insecurities. Many amazing projects go this way without ever seeing the fruitfulness that would have been possible had they paid attention to their team communications.
There are millions of articles, blogs and books out there on leadership, many of which go into this topic in great detail, but for the purposes of having an overview, here are a few principles for keeping the lines of communication open with your team.
1. HAVE REGULAR TEAM MEETINGS:
We all understand this, and most leaders would say they do have regular meetings, but whenever I explore a communication problem with a team, it frequently turns out that meetings are regularly cancelled, cut short or postponed indefinitely. Contingencies requiring a meeting time change can arise in the life of every team at times, but when it’s common and you find that weeks and even months have gone by since your last meeting, your lines of communication are in trouble.
Knowing you should have regular meetings and actually having them are two totally different things. It’s very easy for a leader to lose track of just how many meetings they’ve cancelled or put off in some way, leading to a leadership crisis or loss of what may have been really good team members. Weekly, fortnightly or monthly meetings are vital when you’re inculcating future-focused vision into a group of people who are giving their time and energy to support your leadership call. They need to hear from you. They need to understand your mindsets and perspectives in order to be able to grasp the vision you are casting.
When a team is strongly in place, it’s possible to hold bi-monthly or quarterly meetings, but especially in the early stages of any vision, more regular meetings are vital.
2. TAKE THE PEOPLE ALONG WITH YOU:
It’s not enough to bring to your team the latest innovative techniques, or your great ideas, or the word you heard from God. No matter how exciting it all is, they will not be impressed if you just drop it on their heads and wonder why they’re not enthusiastic. Effective leadership makes a point of taking the people along on the journey. Leadership is never hit and run.
Begin with the overview of the issues you are facing, and then break it down into bite size chunks, digestible because people can absorb it over a period of time rather than being mercilessly force-fed the entire concept all in one go. If it takes more than one meeting to make sure everyone stays with you on the journey, so be it. Better to arrive at the destination together than to lose some of your team on the way.
3. GIVE ROOM FOR QUESTIONS, FEEDBACK, THOUGHTS, AND IDEAS:
Not everyone will grasp every point straight away; make it easy for people to ask and don’t be threatened by their questions. Explain where you’re headed and if they are still struggling to get it, arrange to see them at a later time and talk it through.
Ask your team to contribute any ideas, strategies and general input regarding the way ahead. You may come to a conclusion together at that meeting, or you may want to finalise at a future meeting. Work toward including everyone in the way forward if that is possible, but don’t allow your vision to be railroaded or hindered by people who don’t yet see it. Treat everyone with dignity and grace as you work the concepts through as a team.
4. DISAGREEMENT IS NOT NECESSARILY DISSENSION:
It’s possible to disagree agreeably. Just because a member of the team fails to grasp what you’re doing, doesn’t mean they’re against you. It just means they can’t see it yet. If that happens, make it clear that although you will be going ahead with project, you value their opinion and still appreciate their support.
It is worth having a personal chat to that team member outside of meeting times, asking them to work with you despite their misgivings. It may be that they will come later to acknowledge that you were right after all, or you may do the same to them. Often it’s just a matter of two different opinions, either of which may work, but it’s the leader’s call to determine which method to pursue.
5. KEEP THE HEART OF THE TEAM ALIVE:
The best teams are in relationship with each other beyond their work life. Especially in church organisations and charities, try to develop affiliations of trust and friendship so the rapport goes further than just sharing the same office. Do team building exercises, but also, meet together for coffee or get together as families or couples outside of your work environment.
Whatever methods you use, remember that communication is one of the most powerful tools for success a team can have.