I agree. It’s kind of annoying. There’s plenty of other roles and skills that are helpful and purposeful. From pastors to DCE’s to lay and public “servants” to butchers, bakers and candlestick makers! And by the way, since when did management get such a bad rap?
Yet if the simple definition of leadership is true, that leadership is all about influences and change, then the other saying is also true: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” So in a world and in a church that is often struggling in direct opposition to the will of our Lord, then we probably need to give attention to this little word that has become so annoying.
But what’s wrong with leadership and why has the word become so irritating? What has become so distasteful about it? From my coaching practice there seem to be a few reasons.
- We misunderstand leadership. We think it is about power and authority, being pushy and obnoxious and trying to twist people’s arms to do what we want. We think leadership is about the force of personality that goes to war with others to get our way. When someone says “strong leader” we get this image in our minds of a drill sergeant or an unbending boss who commands us to do their bidding. We don’t like those kinds of people, so when someone says we need to grow in our leadership we bristle. Ugh. We can’t imagine ourselves being like that so we resent the implication. It can even be a source of discouragement that we will never be like that because it just doesn’t fit. “Leaders must be born that way because I’m not like that.” We sigh and resign ourselves to something less than a leader on the one hand or pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves for not giving in to being a “jerk” aka a “leader” or “that guy.”
- Closely related to number one is that we fear being a leader. We just don't like the word because we are afraid. People who are leaders, we assume (because of the misunderstanding of #1 above) have to do things that upset people and make enemies and disappoint people. We further assume that leaders do things that people often don’t like and we don’t want to live our lives upsetting people, making enemies and disappointing people. On our bad days we sigh and resign ourselves to believe that we will never be a leader because we don’t have a backbone to do the right things as a leader because we want to be liked or we don’t want to make enemies. Then on the good days we pat ourselves on the back because we keep the peace and make nice with people. (But that doesn’t seem to work either.)
- A third and related reason for not liking the word “leadership” is that we look at those who are in positions of leadership and we resent them. We have either been on the painful end of the hurt or experienced disappointment. Perhaps we have seen their weaknesses, they have misused or not used their influence and leadership in ways that we would have preferred and so they have lost our respect and we are disgusted with them. “Leaders? I can’t stand them!” So we would never want to be a leader or if we did we would vow not to be “like that one.”
So leaders and leadership often gets a bad name. Sometimes deservedly so. We don’t like, are secretly afraid to be or grow to resent leaders. Meanwhile the church is slowly shrinking, the project loses momentum or fails. That beloved event doesn’t get off the ground. Problems don’t get fixed. Our response? Blame those in charge, nitpick, complain, or maybe we are simply in denial. “Everything is fine. Things will get better. It’s just a temporary thing.” Human beings can put up with a lot of dysfunction. Or maybe we even scapegoat the issue to a magic bullet solution: “All we need is a new pastor, a new worship service, a youth pastor, a major donor, a few new members who can tackle some of these problems, then things will be just fine.”
So sorry to break the news to you, but the real solution is leadership. And yes, it is not just for a few who are born with more leadership traits. The truth is that leaders are not just born, they are made. Leadership can be learned. And leadership doesn’t have to be nor should it be the unhealthy command and control leadership. There is a healthy leadership that is at its core, stewardship. It is a stewardship of the gospel, the mission, and the people. True leadership values the gifts people bring and helps to create a climate of trust and intimacy where mistakes are not just made but celebrated. This is because learning best occurs as mistakes are made and that means things are attempted. They are tried. Sometimes they fail but sometimes they succeed as well. There is forward progress and improvement. Just what we need. Thank you, leadership!
That’s leadership. A stewardship. A good thing. Something that can be learned and that brings hope. We are not resigned to failure, death and decline. We and our organizations can change for the better. All it takes is a little of that formerly hated word: “leadership.”
Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church and others as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Check out his YouTube channel for more leadership and coaching information. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com
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