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Hard Won Lessons on Leadership – Part Two

Many leaders make the mistake of trying to introduce a big vision before they’ve done the hard work of winning the confidence of those they lead.


This blog won’t make much sense unless you’ve read my Monday blog first of, November 18. And, one of the best ways I know how to instill confidence is by identifying and solving the problems that most trouble those they lead and prevent them from doing their jobs well.

I once made this observation to the leader of a large company. “When you’re sitting on top of the mountain, you can make the mistake of thinking all is well in the village below.” This isn’t just true of big corporations; it’s true of churches, organizations and even families. Do you know, and do you care what most stresses your employees, volunteers in ministry or even your spouse and children? What questions or fears can you help them address, or at very least, show empathy for? It’s not all about you. In a Christian worldview it’s all about God and others.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Phil 2:3

Winning the confidence of those you lead Let’s go back to the story I began on Monday of the challenge I had in leading the staff of a 5,000 member church. Then at the end of this blog, we’ll apply those same ideas to leading our families.

I began by asking this question of every pastoral staff person; “What are the top five things that you’ve prayed would change here at Calvary or on which if you got clarity, would make your job more effective or less stressful?”

I asked them to submit their “top five” to a certain pastoral staff member, who I perceived they all trusted. Why? For two reasons;

1. I needed the truth. I was afraid that if they submitted their “top five” directly to me, they may not yet trust me enough to tell me the “whole truth”. I thought there may be some really hard feelings or hurts some staff had, which they’d hold back from me out of fear. (And, as it turns out, there was.) One of the truisms I most often quote is this; “I don’t know what I don’t know.” In this case, I needed to find out what I didn’t know.

2. To get the truth, people need to feel safe. So, I asked them to submit their top five to this one person, who would formulate a “Top 10” of all the concerns or questions submitted. But, I added this caveat, “I will never ask to see or even to know your individual “Top Five”. So, be brutally honest, without any fear your honesty will come back to bite you!”

Later, several staff told me that being able to speak or write the truth without fear, for them was the beginning of the long road of winning their confidence. They felt safe! “It was obvious you really wanted to know the truth, even if it hurt.”

The “Top 10” Once compiled, the “Top 10” was distributed to all pastoral staff. Some of the ideas or questions were painful to read and reflected some deep misunderstandings. It hurt because I’d been on the board for many years and I thought we’d done a wonderful job of communicating and involving staff in our decisions. From the top of the mountain, all looked peaceful in the village. But we’d failed our staff. I knew that resolving some of those issues would take time.

However, there were other issues in the Top 10 that were relatively easy to fix and over the next month five of them were addressed, and the staff began having hope again. They saw the elders were willing to serve them and that most of the past problems were based on miscommunication, not malice. We were winning the confidence of the staff and at the same time our confidence in them was growing.

“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” Heb 13:17

Can you handle the truth? Jack Nicholson in the film, A Few Good Men said this to a committee investigating his command. “You can’t handle the truth!” Our staff was beginning to trust both me and the church board that we could not only handle the truth, but be trusted to do something constructive with it. We were on the mend.

Are you confident you know what the people you lead think of you or the organization? Do you know their Top Five? If you don’t, you’re leading blind. This is true of your family, a committee a corporation or a church. Pray for wisdom to find a safe way to find out.

I once emailed all our adult children after reading these words; “Fathers, do not exasperate your children…” Eph. 6:4a. To find out how well I did as a father, I asked them these questions: • What are the things I did well raising you that helped you become serious about following Jesus? • What things do you wish I would have done differently? • Please tell me anything I did that hurt you, or hindered your love for God.

I asked them to email their answers and comments to another man they trusted, who I told them would compile their answers and comments, without any attribution to any individual, unless they gave their permission to do so. I assured them that I wanted the truth, even if it hurt.

When I received the composite report, it was largely very re-assuring, but also a little painful. I’d been given a B+ generally, but in a few areas, a C or D. I forwarded the composite report to all our children and sons-in-laws and later gathered them together to discuss it. But, at least I knew their truth and could confess to my children my failures and learn from them going forward. Unresolved hurts will kill relationships more surely than angry words.

A fellow elder, and what I perceived, a great father once asked all his adult children separately if they ever remembered him making a promise he hadn’t kept. He was shocked when every one of his children said “yes”. After listening to them, without argument or justification, he asked each for their forgiveness. Do you dare ask the tough questions and receive the truth, no matter how uncomfortable?

Question: Have you found other ways to “know what you don’t know” and would you share them with us?

Following Jesus in Real Life

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