The Leadership Challenge for Church Leaders, Part 6

Part 1 of this post series provides the background and context you need to understand my purpose in writing.

Part 2 described some of the research that led Kouzes and Posner to develop their Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership:

Model the Way
Inspire a Shared Vision
Challenge the Process
Enable Others to Act
Encourage the Heart

Part 3 explored the first practice: Model the Way.

Part 4 concerned the second practice: Inspired a Shared Vision.

In Part 5, I wrote about the third exemplary leadership practice: Challenge the Process.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s work, The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, has been one of the most influential leadership studies/books in a variety of professional fields. I recommend it as a book for understanding leadership as well as for teaching others.

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The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are those behaviors that the most effective leaders actually do – and they practice them regularly. They were developed over years of leadership best practices study. The fourth practice flies in the face of the old idea of the leader as “the boss”, independent and individual. Followers simply do his bidding.

Without trust you cannot lead. Without trust you can’t get people to believe in you or in each other. Without trust you cannot accomplish extraordinary things. Individuals who are unable to trust others fail to become leaders, precisely because they can’t bear to be dependent on the words and works of others. (p. 219)

That brings us to the fourth exemplary leadership practice: Enable Others to Act.

Most pastors, church lay leaders, ministers, Sunday School teachers and small group leaders understand that leadership in the context of a local church must be collaborative by definition. Whether searching the Book of Acts, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 or many other New Testament texts, we read about the Body of Christ and the nature of community life.  The harder question is the “how”?

It is challenging, particularly in light of the fact that the church is primarily a volunteer organization. This fact suggests greater obstacles when comparing the church to, say, a business where some level of power and influence is inherent the employer-employee relationship.

The beauty of The Leadership Challenge is that it answers that “how” question with research and specifics.

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Enabling others to act starts, not surprisingly, with trust. Nothing happens in a leadership relationship apart from it. The key steps in establishing and fostering trust are solidly established, since much leadership research has been devoted to the topic.

  • It is the leader who has the responsibility for being the first to extend trust.
  • Quality and frequency of communication are foundational – communication not for its own sake necessarily, but primarily because sharing of information represents sharing of power.
  • Honesty. This doesn’t mean that the leader shares everything all the time, but when he or she speaks, those listening know the truth is being told – and in the case of a church leader, the Truth.
  • Acceptance of change. One of the most significant blocks for developing trust is when a leader is perceived to be set in his/her ways or afraid to innovate.
  • Transparency. It’s important that a leader admits to flaws and mistakes and encourages others to do the same, acknowledging that mistakes provide great value for learning. The “superstar” leader is one of the most difficult to follow.

Trust is contagious. When you trust others, they are much more likely to trust you. But should you choose not to trust, understand that distrust is equally contagious. (p. 222)

Once trust is established, enabling others to act depends on your willingness to take a chance on people. Yes, there is always risk involved. The Lord historically has pushed His people to step out in faith, trusting Him and each other. Give someone a chance to teach in a small group session when you’re not quite sure of their teaching gifts or ability but have a good “gut” feeling. Allow someone unproven to have a role up front on a Sunday morning because you believe in their potential without having “proof” they can succeed. Give a young person a chance to have a leadership role on a committee, etc.

Take a chance on people and don’t shut that spirit down when they sometimes fail.

The best leaders find a way to make ministry a reflection of true community, even when that isn’t as easy or as polished as leadership as a “lone ranger.”

In the next post, the fifth and final exemplary leadership practice.

Suggested Leadership Books

Patrick Lencioni/The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Cynthia Montgomery/The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs

George Barna/The Power of Vision: Discover and Apply God’s Vision for Your Life & Ministry

Robert Greenleaf/Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness 25th Anniversary Edition

Kouzes & Posner/Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge (J-B Leadership Challenge: Kouzes/Posner)

Ken Blanchard/Leading at a Higher Level, Revised and Expanded Edition: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations

Michael Fullan/Leading in a Culture of Change

Patrick Lencioni/The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable

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