Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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A former British Prime minister observed: “The price of greatness is responsibility.“ Today the number one political leader of the country had his last say. What a fall from grace, after the resounding and unexpected victory of the last general election.

Ironically, he pulled the trigger on the bullet that actually finished his political career. Looking at his decision to step aside, it brings back to the forefront that pivotal leadership issue: when is it right to fight and cling on and when is it right to step aside. This will always be a tricky issue for any leader.

There is no formula, but there are at least two key leadership issues that determines the right attitude.

Haughtiness versus humility. Leaders will almost always find defeats disappointing. Yet a good leader will discern whether they were the cause of the defeat or the redeemer of that defeat. Not all mistakes are an immediate cause for retreat and often the leader in question might be best placed to rebuild after the mess. There is humility in stickability. Other times, the humble thing is to step aside. A good leader will look in the mirror and evaluate ruthlessly. They will chose respectable critics and weigh-up the criticism and give someone else the chance to build again.

Courage versus convenience. Rebuilding after failure is messy. The outcome will be unknown and there are no guarantees that one’s reputation might be salvaged. Dealing with criticism and even a healthy dose of doubt, can be crippling. Sometimes, the easiest route is out. But that isn’t always the most responsible. Healthy leaders undergo an honest soul searching evaluation of their motivation. If they quit because it’s easier, they should also explore a courageous alternative. A good mentor or friend could be useful sounding board in this circumstances.

The truth is that no one, maybe not even the former prime minister, or even his closest confidantes mighty now if this was the right or the wrong leadership ‘move’ or whether the motivation might have been honourable or not. One thing is sure, history and time will be fairer judges of that.

Leaders will always have to make choices. Difficult choices. And those choices determine the quality and longevity of their leadership.

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RETROSPECTIVE LEADERSHIP LESSONS

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The referendum can prove to be redemptive at many levels. My mum had a saying in trying to console me in my teenage years as I was battling the exacerbated angst of injustice everywhere around me (as I was growing up in the context of an emerging democracy, post-communism): ‘you can learn just as much from the negative examples you meet in life – learn how NOT to be.’ Smart advice that can often keep cynicism and bitterness at bay.

Looking back at the political landscape of our country in the last few days, weeks and months – I see some pitfalls that are best avoided in leadership:

  • the negative message and the shouty tone. It seemed like the focus was to feed fears in the two camps and confuse the the undecided even more. That’s both lazy and toxic. Good leaders ought to inspire, looking forward, and do so with a passionate yet gracious and sensitive tones. They need to stop and really listen and make sure that their answer is a reflection of that listening process.
  • the lack of pre-planned strategies after the event. It seemed like they spent so much time and energy in fighting for a result – without having a constructive response to the either outcome. The void that was created gave so much room for infighting and confusion. Good leaders always plan ahead.
  • the lack of redemptive ownership. While one can see the ‘stepping back’ of some of the key players from both camps as a sign of humility, I think it can be the opposite. There is a tendency to run away from the mess – maybe hoping for another chance in the future or trying to do immage damage limitation. Good leaders are always ready to be part of the solution, ready to rebuild in a crisis.
  • the disconnect between grassroots and top end. Politicians often can be trapped in investing more in securing their position and enhancing their image. The day to day constituency work can often seem trivial, frustrating and unnecessary. People become election targets a few times a year and remain a neglected voice the rest of the time. Good leaders are good listeners, ready to see people as THE most important focus of their work.

LEADERS AND ‘LEANERS’

Mondays are never easy for pastors. Some review numbers and sermons. Some receive bad feedback or no feedback. Whether it’s the sense of achievement following a good day on Sunday, or a sense of failure after a bad one – we are vulnerable. Pride, disguised as insecurity or invincibility, comes out to bite.
The naked truth is, leaders need ‘leaners’. Yeah, I just made up that word. It reminded me of one of my favourite Bible passages that describes team ministry in leadership, in Exodus 17.

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”

10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. 11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage.12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. 13 As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

Moses was smart and humble enough not to try to do this alone. He did not get insecure about people’s potential rumours that would point out to his mighty job of holding the staff, while the brave new warrior would be on the frontline. He did not look very commanding having to lean on a stone and be supported by two other leaders.

But Moses had learned the humility lessons the hard way already. He did not care. This was not about him and his image.This was about serving and supporting. Together, as a team. True leaders will never look for occasions that make them shine but will always see the higher pursuit that goes way beyond personal glory.

If you’re a leader, who are your ‘leaners’? Have you humbly acknowledged them? Have you sincerely cried out to them?

If you’re not a leader, who can you be a ‘leaner’ for today. Chose the so called ‘small’ things as they most often matter more than you could imagine.

Mentoring Questions

I have never been mentored in a formal manner, neither have I mentored anyone myself in a formal manner. Still, I believe that mentoring is a very healthy way to grow as disciples and develop as leaders. Here are some questions I would find useful – as part of this process:

Personal 

  • How do you see Christ right now?
  • Is grace still amazing?
  • Are you set apart for Him?
  • What has Bible been talking to you about recently?

Relational

  • Are you a servant?
  • Do you need to forgive?
  • What burdens your soul?
  • Have you been a witness? How?

Vocational

  • Are you empty or full?
  • Is Christ evident in you at work?
  • Are you working ‘as unto The Lord’?
  • Is your gift your security?

Leadership

  • What have you learned?
  • Who have you watched?
  • What have you read?
  • What have you listened to?

Good Discussion

As many of you would be aware, community life, and particularly church small groups are a one of my passions.
Here are some helpful tips for any group or small group leader.

Everyone should be prepared to contribute to the discussion. You – as discussion coordinator – play a very important role.

Preparation – this is absolutely essential. Getting ready will make you feel more confident in leading the group. it honours God and will minister to the people who turn-up

Passage – familiarise yourself with it by reading it several times; look out for interesting or difficult issues. Raise questions and get clarifications if needed.

Pointed – try to narrow down the many issues and questions. What is the one thing you MUST get across during the meeting. Often that will help you as the evening takes an unexpected turn.

Prayer – as you pray for yourself and the group you will have a deeper sense of direction and will feel the enabling of the Holy Spirit as you seek to convey God’s truth.

Practical – work as creatively as you can to make the discussion point to a transformational practical outcome. Stir, provoke and inspire people to see how God’s truth connects with their family life, work place and leisure

LEADING A SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: Inquire

INQUIRE – learning the ‘art’ of asking some questions. This sets apart the great discussion leaders from the average ones. Even if you are brilliant at working through the suggestions in the previous three posts: Involvement, Introductions and information – that would just build a platform.

And in order to build on that platform you need to develop this essential skill for a fruitful small group discussion – the skill of asking questions. Some are very native to this skill and seem to have been born with it. But the vast majority of people learn it over time and practice.

The key players in the question game are you (asking) and your group (responding). Here are some of my tips for getting the most out of this process:

  • Readiness – As I suggested before doing your homework in both understanding the questions provided and ‘owning’ them will be very useful. Maybe you can even re-write or add a few of your own.
  • Relax – A good sense of warm familiarity will help to make people like they can attempt to answer without fear of being laughed at or corrected. You need to know who your crew are and what they are comfortable with. You can draw some introverts gently into conversation but don’t force them.
  • Relate – As people share emphasise the common nature of their experience, maybe at times even illustrating how you might feel the same excitement/frustration. That will make them feel less vulnerable and more ‘normal’.
  • Repeat – sometimes people either do not understand the question or they need time to ponder it and repeating it in a slightly altered way might do the trick and avoid the kind of silence that might make people self-conscious (i.e. ‘boy we are a thick group’).
  • Referee – as you are in charge of the discussion, you need to use both your discernment and your courage to make sure that people don’t monopolize the room or feel too intimidated to speak. Again, knowing people is a great plus. You can easily draw them in by mentioning something they have experienced/they are passionate about. How you handle the extremes will set the tone for the group atmosphere.

LEADING A SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: Introductions

INTRODUCTIONS – As I wrote in yesterday’s post – the aim of the discussion is not just to ‘get it right’ from an information point of view. The discussion should be a community building tool. Therefore good inter-personal relationships within the group are essential

Start by introducing people if they don’t know each other. Make newcomers feel at ease and make the long-term ‘customers’ feel valued in being there. Use ice-breakers or get them to talk about their day/week. That would create a sense of warmth and intimacy where people feel safe and accepted in sharing their opinions as well as voicing their questions or doubts even.

Talking about us and our lives – with all the ordinary or extraordinary ‘ups and downs’ – to people who are interest, is such a rare commodity these days…

If you as a leader work at this you will reap great results in the depth and effectiveness of the group discussion. At the end of the day – the discussion as a ‘journey’ is often more important than the destination itself.

Here are some helpful questions that can help you enhance the introductions within the group:

Do I know the people in the group that I am leading?

Have I made them personally welcome eve before the meeting?

Have I prepared some good ice-breakers to get them talking?

Am I ready to set an example in vulnerability by talking about my life/week?

Are there any hindrances in people feeling welcomed in the group?

LEADING A SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: Involvement

Over the next few days I will write about some of my favourite tips for leading a discussion, combining my two passions for both communication & community. These are hopefully personal practical lessons – learned over the last 25 years or so.

INVOLVEMENT – this is probably the number one tip for any small group discussion leader. Don’t monopolise the conversation or try to provide all the answers, even when group silence seems to lure you in doing that.

A good leader draws people out of their ‘corner’ and brings them into the conversation. You must remember that for the average person, speaking in a group would be a pretty daring and uncomfortable experience. The more people contribute – the richer the group experience will be.

There are naturally quiet people who are authentic introverts who simply enjoy listening. Don’t pressurise them – as that will drive them away. With sensitivity discern what would build people up and strengthen your group.

If you want to do your homework and want to be better prepared to involve others – here are some helpful questions:

How do I create an atmosphere of warmth in the group?

Do I own the questions (understanding/knowing them)?

Am I talking too much?

Do I know the people – who are the introverts & extroverts?

NEXT TIME – Introductions

BUILDING A BRIDGE


The other day a friend of mine has asked about my preferred way of ‘handling’ a situation in which one of the members of my congregation comes to me complaining about another member regarding something they might have said/done and hurt them.

Here are some of my thoughts (so far…always work in progress). Although it seems a little bit like a system – it is meant to be much more ‘fluid’ and primarily relational. It goes without saying that it must be coupled with an attentive ear to God’s voice.

PRELIMINARIES:

  • Is it necessary to hear all this? In fullness? Is this person a ‘complainer/stirrer’ – do they permanently fall out with others? Do they have a negative attitude? Although that doesn’t mean their complaint must be dismissed – that must bring some filters perhaps.
  • Is it accurate – are they telling the truth? Are they ‘filtering’ the information because of their background, former traumas or relational difficulties?
  • Is it the right time/place/means for me as a pastor to hear this issue? Is it urgent? Is to be done face-to-face?
  • Is it essential for me to be involved? Should/can they ‘sort’ it out themselves? Beware of you becoming a middle-person because of their unwillingness to humbly and graciously confront one another – Matthew 18
  • Is the Bible addressing the issue? Read about what it says and have a Biblical viewpoint prepared – if possible. See Colossians 3:12-15; Romans 12:18
  • Is my heart right – Matthew 7:1-5? Am I objective? Have I sought God’s wisdom? Have I prayed about the people, the issues, myself?

PROCESS

  • Courage – nobody likes confrontation but often it is necessary in solving a problem: Acts 6 – by dealing with issues we demonstrate leadership, courage, wisdom and…love (yes, love). See also Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-3
  • Compassion – the goal should always be healing, restoration and redemption. We must be clothed in humility, patience, grace and love as we engage with those in conflict.
  • Communication – this must be done as clearly, honestly and politely as possible. Though feelings cannot be detached from the facts – objectivity is essential.
  • Community – we must show the parts that this affects not just them personally but even families and the entire Body of Christ. There is more to us than just ‘me’.
  • Christ-centredness – always seek to bring Jesus, His teaching, example and sacrifice in the issues involved? How do they relate? What did Jesus say? What please Him?

I am not suggesting this to be a model. It’s just the way I would go about it…. Please feel free to add your own perspectives and questions…

CRISIS LEADERSHIP LESSONS #1

As I continue my journey of reading the Bible in a year, I came across one of the most tragic episodes in Israel’s history. While Moses is enjoying a wonderful encounter with God – the people fail again so badly.

This was Aaron’s ‘big break’ and he handles responsibility very poorly. He had a great chance to prove his leadership yet this becomes one of his worst moments in life. And to be fair, it happens so very often to any of us. We ‘blow’ unique chances at exactly the most inopportune moments. As always – maybe there are some lessons for us:

Beware of the ‘big break’ – they often say that you are most vulnerable when you are doing well, when you enjoy success and when the world seems to be your oyster. Maybe Aaron was so flattered and overwhelmed emotionally by the chance to lead that he either lost his sense of discernment or simply became arrogant. And that’s when he became vulnerable and stopped leading. Probing question: ‘how do you respond to success and promotions?’

Beware of impatience – the people wanted an instant, 3D worship experience. Just like the pagan nations around them. Moses was delayed for too long and all he would bring down was a boring set of tablets. Not as fancy and shiny as the golden calf they built. So, DIY is in order. They cannot wait and they make it happen. Probing question:’ are you getting ahead of God and doing His work for Him?’

Beware of ‘mob rule’ – this was so rushed and so ad hoc. No leadership meeting. No praying. No waiting. Just people crowding Aaron out and applying peer pressure. They were unhappy and they were numerous. They could easily become violent. Survival instinct kicks in and the crowd have their way. Probing question: ‘who do you live to please?’

Beware of ‘negative momentum’ – any leader reading this could identify in some measure with Aaron’s situation. things have a way of getting out of hand and troubles easily escalate. Was Aaron really prepared to take it that far or things simply went from bad to worse? Just as much as positive momentum will take to places you have never even dreamed of – so can negative momentum take to your worst nightmare. Probing question: ‘if i take this route – what is the worst case scenario?’

Beware of substitutes/fakes – this must be so tempting for any leader. To have a crowd – and one that is pleased with you (Mr. Popular) and a crowd that are having a good time. Most leaders dream of this. Yet for Israel and Aaron – it is all fake. They do not respect him and trust him as a leader – they simply use him as a push-over. They are not having a worship time – they just indulge in a ‘copy-cat’ worship experience common to the pagan nations around. Probing question: ‘Is that experience authentic or a cheap copy?’