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The leadership honeymoon

By Sam S. Rainer III

A new season of ministry brings no shortage of emotions: Excitement, stress and a burning desire to accomplish something. Any major transition in life can put people on edge. Leaders, in particular, face the challenge of visibility during these times of transition. The people are learning the new leader’s verbiage, mannerisms, vision and leadership style. The leader in turn is assessing organizational structure, relationship dynamics and culture. In many organizations leaders are more visible during this process than at any other time. This honeymoon stage is a time of high visibility for the leader but it is also usually one during which people are most forgiving.

Those in church leadership positions are probably familiar with the honeymoon stage. For most, this time is one in which the people are excited to rally around and support a new leader. But it is also a time in which problems are simmering unseen, waiting to surface once the honeymoon fades.

During the honeymoon, leaders have a tendency to revert to default modes. Some leaders default to a more autocratic leadership style; others lean towards a style that is too gracious and laissez faire. One of my leadership defaults is assessment. During the honeymoon stage, I lean towards over-assessing and over-analyzing. While leaders should assess a new ministry during a transition, the pitfall is understanding exactly who and what to assess. In order to prevent cruising in default mode, there are some good practices for the honeymoon stage. I’ve listed a few below.

Learn to love the people. Some people in the church are easy to love. For others, it takes a little more time and spiritual commitment. But all the people need to see their leadership as loving. It does not matter what leadership role you play in an organization or ministry, followers like to know who is leading them. Learning the people takes a lot more time on the front end, but this process is invaluable in the long term. Big, transformational changes are much easier if you know people’s stories.

Celebrate little victories. In a time of transition, don’t jump into unnecessary major changes. Start your tenure by pointing out small victories. Vocalizing the successes of others not only builds people up, it reinforces expectations in a positive way.

Don’t be afraid to point out some of your idiosyncrasies. Everyone has foibles. And people pick up on them quickly. Show levity by admitting them to others in a tactful way. If you tend to ramble, then tell people, “I like to think out loud.” Communication will be easier earlier if leaders recognize their own quirks.

Maintain a long-term mindset. A long-term mindset is critical to lead any group of people. Organizations are complex organisms that cannot be digested all at once. A lack of a long-term commitment will squelch any potential for a leader to act in a transformational capacity.

Get to know the community. You cannot lead a church without knowing the church. Additionally, you cannot lead a church to reach the community unless you know the community. One of the best windows of opportunity to talk with community leaders is during the honeymoon. And one way to make an immediate impact is to ask them about their biggest needs.

Enjoy it. Perhaps the quickest snare to trip is stress. If you maintain a long-term outlook, some of the early stresses (which always seem smaller in hindsight) are moderated. Therefore, enjoy loving the people. Enjoy the lack of complaints. Enjoy your community. And enjoy the privilege to serve the Creator of the universe.

Sam S. Rainer III is the president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Murray, Murray, KY. [www.rainerresearch.com] [www.fbcmurray.org]

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