December 4, 2017—Leadership, by its nature, is an isolating enterprise. Leaders need to stand apart, sometimes they stand alone; often leadership is a lonely state of being. There are organizations, churches and non-profits included, that take a different approach by cultivating a leadership team.
I’ve noted, however, an increase in the number of leaders asking questions, and for help, about how they can better tap into their “leadership team” for providing distributive leadership to their organization and churches. As one pastor put it, “I don’t think I can do this by myself anymore.” I think this is a good sign, a healthy confession, and a positive step away from notions of individually personified leadership—the belief that leadership isinherent in an individual, or, in a personality “type” or “style,” a notion that misses the insight that leadership is a function and product of the system one is in (see The Hidden Lives of Congregations).
Mature and self-assured leaders understand they cannot provide leadership in isolation. The most effective leaders solicit leadership potential and capacities from those around them. The dilemma for many leaders with staff seems to be how to turn a team (a staff, board, or committee) of followers into a team of leaders. This is a big challenge because (let’s be realistic) in most systems there will always be more followers than leaders. Most people in an organization do not want the responsibility that comes with leadership (although that won’t keep them from offering their views on how things should be run).
Leadership teams that are effective have the following characteristics, shared among all the members of the group:
- Clarity about and commitment to the mission
- A shared corporate value related to the work and mission (e.g., a “no excuses” mentality, a commitment to excellence)
- The ability to set priority for the welfare of the institution while setting aside personal predilections, preferences, and convenience
- An understanding that it is not enough to say something needs to be done—it actually needs to be done and they are the ones who do it
- A high level of trust and honesty among the members, allowing for honest conversations, mutual accountability, and challenges toward higher functioning
- An acceptance that leadership means one must lead.
I often hear leaders known for their effectiveness and success say, “I just know how to surround myself with good people.” The move from personality leadership to team leadership is a good one. Fortunate is the leader who can surround him or herself with good people. Most of us, I suspect, will not inherit ready-made leaders on a team or staff, we’ll need to cultivate them. As with anything associated with leadership it is (1) hard to do, and (2) takes a long time.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.