Being humble is one of the most critical traits of a great leader

By Ronald E. Keener

Leaders at the very top fail to realize that no one else in the organization can do what they do in maintaining a cohesive team.

When church administrators work at building their team or merely conduct a meeting they must “compel the process,” says management consultant

Patrick Lencioni, and when it doesn’t happen it is more often because “they have a misplaced sense of humility.”

Lencioni, president of The Table Group that specializes in organizational health and executive team development, is a favorite speaker at church conferences. He has authored nine books with more than three million copies sold, and the latest one is The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business (Jossey-Bass, 2012).

Church Executive asked Lencioni to apply the advice in his book to pastors and executive pastors of churches as well as to companies:

We don’t hear much about humility in business?

Being humble is one of the most critical things a great leader must be. But being humble means that leaders know that they are not more important than the people they lead. They are servant leaders. However, even servant leaders need to understand that their words and actions are, in fact, more impactful than those of others.

When they fail to recognize this, regardless of the rationale, they often hesitate to stand up and take responsibility for what they are uniquely qualified to do. What they must do is simultaneously embrace their humility and their role to get out front and be a public leader.

Where do leaders go wrong, mostly, whether in the corporate or church setting?

Too many leaders delegate responsibility for building a healthy organization. In a world of participatory management and shared responsibility, leaders at the very top of an organization sometimes fail to realize that no one else in the organization can do what they do in terms of maintaining a cohesive team, and creating, communicating and reinforcing clarity.

In almost every other aspect of running an organization, the leader can delegate. But in building a healthy organization, which is the most central of all responsibilities, the leader must keep his or her hands on the wheel.

You note that “being the leader of a healthy organization, more than anything, is just plain hard.” What few things, of behavior or preparation, can lighten the load for the already overburdened pastor?

The most effective and important behavior of any leader who wants to avoid the exhaustion and frustration of being overburdened – and certainly this applies in a big way to a pastor – is vulnerability. What I mean is that the leader must be completely naked with his team about his faults, mistakes and shortcomings. As painful as that might seem, it is extraordinarily liberating and the only way I know for a leader to build lasting trust and credibility with followers.

During difficult times, this, more than anything else, pulls people together and makes the burdensome job of a pastor possible. They don’t have to pretend they’re something they’re not, and they can share the load with others who now see them a human being, not a perfect person.

When the senior pastor or executive pastor gathers department heads around the table for the weekly “staff meeting,” what dynamics should he expect, avoid, or encourage that can lead to a healthy congregation?

A pastor should always be looking for and fostering healthy disagreement during meetings. When people aren’t disagreeing, there is a decent chance that they aren’t addressing issues that could become bigger over time. They should avoid people feeling pressure to agree with one another, especially with the pastor.

“No action, activity or process is more central to a healthy organization than the meeting,”  you write. Why such trust in that “m word”?
Briefly,  meetings are the most important activity of a healthy organization because that is where teams live, and where they make decisions. If the decision-making process in an organization is broken, the organization will be broken too.

So why do most of us see meetings, especially staff meetings, as “a form of corporate penance, something that is inevitable and must be endured,” in your words? What is it that we do wrong?

I think we’ve just given up on meetings and decided they are a necessary evil. Most of us have had so few encounters with great meetings that we’ve decided there must be something inherent about meetings that makes them dreadful, boring, tedious, and wasteful. The fact is, meetings should be the most compelling parts of our days, and they are probably the greatest artifact of a healthy organization. This is especially problematic in churches and parachurch organizations, where meetings tend to be extremely “nice” and therefore, boring.

One of the biggest factors that make a meeting effective is keeping people interested in what is going on, and the greatest way to do that is to ensure that people are engaging in conflict. Not mean-spirited, interpersonal conflict, but productive, respectful, passionate disagreement about what is important.

If people disagree on the best way to do that, shouldn’t they enter the fray with one another and “have it out”? The truth is, they usually don’t because they think that disagreeing isn’t being “nice,” and that isn’t Christian. Loving someone enough to disagree about something important is completely Christian, as long as it is done with genuine love.

So what is the meaning of your title, The Advantage, when it comes to organizational health?

The best way to read the title is to put an emphasis on the first word, “The.” What I mean is that I believe that organizational health is THE most important and impactful advantage that any organization can have. In a world where people have come to believe that technology, finance and strategy are what make organizations great, it’s actually the ability to eliminate politics and confusion, and get people rowing in the same direction, that create the greatest competitive differentiator and advantage.


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