Developing Leaders Through Building Healthy, Proactive Teams

For a leadership training I’m facilitating tomorrow…

“Apollos and I are working as a team, with the same aim, though each of us will be rewarded for his own hard work.” 1 Corinthians 3:8 (TLB, emphasis added)

Leadership and team development are two sides of the same coin. It is nearly impossible to have one without the other. Additionally, there is a difference between a minister and a leader. Effective ministers build people; effective leaders build groups, or teams, of people. The following exercise will focus on developing our leadership capacity through building healthy and proactive teams.

Simply stated, leadership means influence. Within the church context our aim is to influence people for the (subversive) cause of Christ – to build and grow the kingdom of God. That is always the goal. The fruit, or effect, is that new ministries will be started in the local church context and existing ministries will undergo a constant transformational process through regular renewal and teambuilding. Effective leaders know how to maximize influence opportunities by intentionally equipping and empowering others. Ephesians 4:11-13 clearly calls leaders to equip people so the body of Christ can grow to maturity. (Biblical equipping includes both repairing and preparing people.)

In Developing the Leader Within You, John Maxwell states: “The one who influences others to follow only is a leader with certain limitations. The one who influences others to lead others is a leader without limitations.” Equipping, or empowering, people change ministers into leaders.

While most leaders see the importance of equipping others, many leaders struggle with how to put biblical principles into practice. Following are 10 thoughts on equipping people and developing a healthy and proactive team.

1. Define and communicate responsibilities that challenge. Communicate the big picture and how people fit into it. It is much easier to put a jigsaw puzzle together if we can see the completed picture on the puzzle box. It is important for people to have a clear picture of the goals and objectives and how they fit into the plan.

Next communicate specific responsibilities to the team members. What do you expect from them? Provide a clear ministry description and allow their input. A good ministry description states specific responsibilities, how much authority the team members have, who they are accountable to, what benefits they have, and the length of time they are to serve. I generally employ three overlapping criteria in generating ministry descriptions:

  • Spiritual gifting
  • Holy passions
  • What needs to get done

Help people take ownership of the goals, tasks, and responsibilities. Encourage their input and provide the opportunity for them to set their own goals as part of the total plan. Help people to develop life skills, not just “church” skills.

People who are challenged to become great — and are given the opportunity to do so — usually succeed.

In The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Edward Lawler III and Patricia Renwick list several factors that contribute to people’s excitement and motivation:

  • The chance to do something that makes you feel good about yourself.
  • The chance to accomplish something worthwhile.
  • The chance to learn new things.
  • The opportunity to develop new skills.
  • The amount of freedom you have to accomplish your responsibility.
  • The chance to do the things that you do best.

In the same book psychologist David Berlow speculates that people find meaning and enthusiasm when opportunities provide the following:

  • A chance to be tested, to make it on one’s own.
  • A chance to take part in a social experiment.
  • A chance to do something well.
  • A chance to do something good.
  • A chance to change the way things are.

2. Give authority commensurate to the responsibility. One of the most frequent complaints of team members is that they are given responsibility without corresponding authority. Leaders need to be willing to trust those they ask to do a job by giving them the authority necessary to do the job. How much authority should be given? Enough to get the job done. This authority should be communicated to those with whom the leaders work.

Once we have given the job and the authority, we must not short-circuit the process. Do not permit those relating to a different team member to come directly to you. This will only frustrate team members and set them up to fail.

Increase authority when performance earns it and responsibility requires it. As people increase in skills and effectiveness, increase their authority. This will raise morale and increase the effectiveness of the overall team.

3. Establish standards for excellence. It is most helpful when every team has a set of realistic operating standards. Some specific standards that will increase team effectiveness might include these:

  • We see ourselves, first and foremost, as servant-leaders.
  • We see ourselves as “inviters and includers” at all-church events – creatively serving and recruiting people into ministry opportunities.
  • We honor our commitments.
  • We believe in being people of developmental character and integrity.
  • We are faithful to our responsibilities.
  • We are wise stewards of our time, talents, and resources.
  • We agree that conflict and disagreement are inevitable, but that we can disagree agreeably.
  • We work together as a team (basic stages: forming -> storming -> norming -> performing).
  • We are committed to life-long learning (disciple means learner).
  • We are committed to results, not just performance.
  • We aim to respect the property of other ministries at the church facility and go the extra mile to communicate &/or seek permission – and return the property after use.

As leaders, we set the example (for better or for worse). The standards will become team standards only when others see us maintaining them.

4. Make training and mentoring a priority. Train first-and-foremost in basic life skills as defined in Scripture. We want to equip and train people in spiritual, social, intellectual, emotional, ecological, and physical health practices. Training is the key to an effective team. No team is effective without proactive training and practice (i.e., mentoring/discipleship). An effective leader never does the job alone. Churches that are in decline have leaders who see their jobs as doing the ministry for the people. However, in growing churches, leaders equip and mobilize people for the work of ministry.

Use a variety of methods to make training an ongoing process. Training can be accomplished through several distinct methodologies: intentional mentoring, on-the-job training, in the classroom, online, in team meetings – to name a few. The essence of an effective training process is the same process Jesus employed to train the disciples (sometimes referred to as the “discipleship loop”):

  • I do it.
  • I do it, and you watch.
  • You do it, and I watch.
  • You do it, and I give feedback (commonly referred to as a “debrief”).
  • You do it, and begin training someone else.

5. Provide the skill training and the proactive communication people need to succeed. People need pertinent and timely information about organizational goals, plans, and changes. Workers are motivated when they know what is happening in the organization. It makes them feel respected and valuable, helps them desire to do a better job, and empowers them to do a better job. Without skill training and proactive communication people cannot take responsibility, will not be as creative, and will not be as productive.

6. Provide thoughtful and appropriate feedback (positive + negative). Regularly reinforce positive performance. Compliments, cards, notes, emails, rewards, and additional opportunities and advancement are some ways to reinforce excellent performance. Feedback should be tailored to the person, performance, and situation. Morale and effectiveness increase when people receive regular feedback.

When it is necessary to confront or clarify feedback, keep in mind these guidelines:

  • Confront privately, not publicly.
  • Deal with a “situation” as soon as possible.
  • Address only one issue at a time, and be specific.
  • Ask clarifying questions (help me to understand…).
  • Allow for the person to take responsibility.
  • Discuss only what the person can do something about.
  • Direct your critique to the action, not the person.
  • Avoid sarcasm and anger.
  • Sandwich criticism between compliments.

7. Recognize and reward efforts and achievements. We get what we reward. Make heroes of the people you work with. Public recognition and rewards are essential. Shine the spotlight on accomplishments. Coffee shop gift certificates, awards, speeches, plaques, and recognition in newsletters are just a few ways to show gratitude for accomplishments. It’s been said that everyone has an invisible sign hung around our necks that says, PMMFI (pum-fee) – an acrostic for: Please Make Me Feel Important. Recognition does that and builds a better team. Guidelines for recognizing and rewarding efforts and achievements include:

  • Tailor recognition to the person and the achievement.
  • Make recognition timely.
  • Recognize people, as well as their accomplishments.
  • Recognize them as members of a team, as well as individuals.
  • Make sure the recognition conveys sincere appreciation.

8. Trust your team. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Trust [people], and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.” Building trusting relationships is essential. A leader can demonstrate trust in many ways:

  • Be sensitive to needs, interests, and concerns.
  • Listen to ideas, dreams, and plans.
  • Delegate, or trust, with significant assignments or responsibilities.
  • Share your dreams, visions, and plans.
  • Allow the team to be a part of the goal-setting and problem-solving process.
  • Be honest and open about your own mistakes and vulnerabilities.

Distinguish between trust in character and trust in ability. Some have strong, mature character but little ability. Others have less mature character by great ability. Trusting people at the highest degree possible helps them develop a higher level of both character and ability.

9. Give permission to fail. View failure as a growing experience – it is the fodder of innovation. True failure is when we don’t learn from the experience. Establish some guidelines for failure: It is OK to make a mistake. It is OK to fail if we are doing our best. When we fail, we can talk about what went wrong, what we can learn, and how to do better. Knowing what NOT to do is just as important as knowing what TO do. J

When team members know they are expected to succeed but that it is OK to fail, they are more creative and willing to risk. This creates a positive environment for a team. When people experiment and take calculated risks in their responsibilities, morale increases and results are greater.

10. Treat others with respect. Treating team members with respect increases motivation. People work best when they feel valued and respected. Demonstrate your commitment and loyalty the same way you expect others to be committed and loyal to you as the leader.

In Diane Tracy’s 10 Steps to Empowerment: A Common-Sense Guide to Managing People, J.C. Staehle lists — in order of importance — primary causes of discontent among workers that leaders can avoid:

  • Failure to give credit for suggestions.
  • Failure to correct grievances.
  • Failure to encourage.
  • Criticism of employees in front of other people.
  • Failure to ask employees their opinions.
  • Failure to inform employees of their progress.
  • Favoritism.

A leader can show respect for team members by asking for their suggestions, keeping them informed, treating them fairly, encouraging them, and acknowledging their accomplishments.

Begin today to put these 10 thoughts into practice, and your team will become a team that is healthy, holy, and powerful to accomplish MPVCC’s full redemptive potential.

Reflection Questions (to be the basis for dialogue at this Saturday’s LT meeting):

  1. What would you strongly affirm or emphasize in this training document?
  2. Is the idea of a difference between a minister and a leader new to you? How do you feel about it?
  3. Of the 10 thoughts, in which are you currently most proficient?
  4. Of the 10 thoughts, in which are you currently not proficient?
  5. What would you add to this training document (what’s missing)?

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