Saturday, June 29, 2013

Leadership Lament

There is a tension in my spirit as I write this post because I do not want to come across as self righteous or unfairly judgmental.  However, I am struggling to reconcile a form of leadership I witnessed this week with everything I know to be right and honourable about leaders.  The more I learn about empowering leadership, the deeper my discontentment grows with anything less!

It is not appropriate for me to discuss the circumstances of the observations I am referring to in this forum, but there are lessons to be learned and shared to perpetuate the sort of leadership that builds people up, not tears them down. The following are brief reflections on some fundamental leadership principles that I have seen violated, yet ought to be foundational to any leadership relationship or context.

Whenever there is a COMMUNICATION breakdown between two leaders it is usually related to unmet expectations from one or both parties.  Relational intelligence would suggest the moment you detect that expectations are not being met you would seek dialogue with the offending party to redefine those expectations.  I believe the earlier this is done, the risk of resentment creeping into the relationship is minimized and the likelihood of respect growing in the relationship is maximized. It is unproductive to avoid these conversations or to abdicate them because they are uncomfortable.

There is something inherent about CONFLICT that causes insecure leaders to avoid it or manifest it in a destructive manner.  Conflict in any working relationship is not only inevitable, but is essential to wrestling with the issues that matter to what and whom you are leading.  Rather than managing out or suppressing conflict, it needs to be encouraged and embraced in a healthy manner (read Embrace The Conflict for further discussion).  We need people on our teams who will disagree with us and we need to make it safe for them to do so if we are going to be effective and empowering leaders.

It is the responsibility of any leader at any level of an organisation to COACH the people on their team to lift the lid of their leadership to a higher level.  In the absence of intentional leadership development opportunities within a team, the team leader, in part, is accountable for the poor performance of team members.  We seem to have little problem applying this principle to a sporting club when the coach is sacked for the poor performance of the team, but paradoxically the reverse usually applies in the workplace.

John Maxwell often quotes, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you CARE."  Leaders who devalue the personal lives of those they lead while trying to uphold the interests of the organisation find themselves in a self-defeating cycle.  Nurturing people through personal challenges will evoke a loyalty and commitment to an organisation that cannot be bought.  Leaders who demonstrate genuine care and concern (not just give lip service), find a greater responsiveness when the need for correction of performance issues arises.

I find it indefensible that these basic leadership principles are not only violated, but justified, to maintain image, manage risk or mitigate problems.  It grieves me to see potential leaders discouraged and competent leaders disillusioned by a dis-empowering style of leadership.  Yet, it strengthens my resolve to "equip the people of God for the work of the ministry to build up the body of Christ."  

The level of discontentment I felt this week is not only a sober reminder of the dark side of leadership, but a summons to reflect the character of Christ and to continue to develop and grow as an empowering leader.

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