How can you become a better leader? There is no silver bullet or three key tricks or tips. It is truly found in becoming more self-aware, becoming more “differentiated” and “connected” at the same time.
Jesus is obviously the healthiest relational human to ever walk the earth. He could call Peter out on his sin (showing differentiation)…and Jesus could draw Peter close to himself as he gives words of encouragement and love (showing connection). Jesus does the same thing to us. He convicts us of sin through the Law…and He draws us close through the Gospel. Both things must happen at the same time.
St. Paul also gives us a clear example of being “differentiated and connected” in Philippians 4:13-14, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” This is a clear differentiating statement. All Paul needs is the love of God that is His by faith in Christ Jesus. But you probably have not memorized the verse that came immediately after verse 13. “Yet, it was kind of you to share in my troubles.” Paul realizes He is whole by faith in Christ. He doesn’t need anyone else. He is differentiated. Yet, at the very same time, Paul was built for community and deep relationships. He doesn’t need others…and, at the same time, he deeply needs others. I pray you sense the relational tension and grow in your comfort with it.
Another way to talk about this “tension” is through an understanding of “passive” and “aggressive” behavioral traits. Healthy leaders have self-awareness of where they are imbalanced. For example, based on the Harrison Behavioral Assessment (not President Matthew Harrison for those in the LCMS), we know that the majority of pastors are “passively” imbalanced. We like to keep the peace. We like people to like us. For instance, most pastors are more “diplomatic” than we are “frank.”
Healthy leaders can be relationally flexible. If the person and/or organization, church, or denomination is passively imbalanced, the leader is going to need to become slightly more aggressive to change the culture of the church/organization/denomination. The inverse is also true. If the church/organization is aggressively imbalanced and has lost a culture of love, the leader must become slightly more passive to balance out the culture of the church/organization/denomination. Only the constantly self-aware leader can assess this need.
Finally, anytime a system changes, the system will revolt. Anxiety will enter into the system in an attempt to hold on to what was. The healthy leader must be aware that pushback and even sabotage may, and likely will, come to the leader who desires to change an organization into the uncertain future. Expect it, and plan for it by constantly focusing on your tendency to react.
Here are the four primary ways that individuals and systems will respond any time change comes.
FIGHT—Conflict; “chip on the shoulder,” edgy
FLEE—Distance; peacekeeper at all costs
OVER FUNCTIONING/UNDER-FUNCTIONING—Over-functioners do for others what they should do for themselves. Under-functioners know they are a “problem,” but they won’t do much about it.
PROJECTION—Emotional triangles will direct the blame/shame at one person or group as the “main problem.” Systems theory lets us know that one person is never the problem. An unhealthy and out-of-balance system is the problem.
What is your primary response to anxiety in a system? What is the primary response of your church?
Unhealthy churches will have one of these four primary tendencies in handling/mishandling
stress in their system. The healthier the church, the more diverse the response will be…and the more healthy leaders will be present in the system to locate and challenge the dysfunctional emotional responses within the system. I pray you would be one of these leaders.
How does the system begin to become more and more health? It just takes one person, especially when it is the team leader, to become more self-aware, less anxious, and more differentiated…and connected at the same time. Guess what? This is what JESUS wants to provide for you. How? Through faith…through the gift of the Holy Spirit…through living in the fruit of the Spirit, especially praying for peace through inevitable stress, which will come as you try to change your church to reach more and more people with the Gospel.
Here is a final word of encouragement. There is no such thing as a “non-anxious” person. Stress will come. Your goal is simply to be the least anxious person in the room. That is your goal as a leader. Stay connected and differentiated at the same time. It’s really that simple.
And that is how you can become a better leader. 🙂
If you’d like to even go deeper into this topic, I would recommend any book by Edwin Friedman, a secular social scientist. I love his book Failure of Nerve. You could also read any book by Peter Steinke, a Lutheran social scientist. Finally, you could read Family Systems and Congregational Life: A Map for Ministry by R. Robert Creech. This book blessed me immensely!
Enjoy the journey of becoming a better leader. The journey will never end.