A leaders goal is to develop people in the midst of the problem

Updated: May 4, 2021

In my last post I was explaining how maturation happens in the context of relationship, and to achieve this dance “It’s the dependent who must accept the invitation to follow the leader.”

If this is to play out in our leadership, our discipleship, how then does it affect our leading of others? It could be in a church setting, it could be just our own families, it could be in a work setting, all kinds of different places.

The true goal of leadership.

Most of our leadership and discipleship goals are built around knowledge, behavior and performance.

It's that cognitive certainty of “I want to be ready to give an answer for the hope that I have,” I want to know my theology, and I want skills to know how to do things. We’re also told to manage our mistakes, to try and control our responses, to do more good things than bad. And we measure how many charitable endeavors a person is committed to, how many groups do they lead, what outcome can they achieve.

All of these goals are not bad in themselves; we love thinking about doctrine, and most of us want to actually behave well, serving others and obtaining results are certainly worthwhile. But this is an incomplete picture of discipleship.

A more complete picture is to understand how we are transformed? What is it that moves us, that transforms us, and grows us up?

A leadership example gone wrong.

One of the challenges, most pastors of churches face is getting volunteers for the kids ministry. I think the sort of leadership style that we all inherit because of the culture we live in is “leadership is about influence”. So, I is a leader need to influence my subordinate, that is the person leading the children’s ministry, and I influence them by giving them good ideas, persuasive words, and tips and tactics on how to fix and solve problems.

The problem we are trying to solve is “we need people to staff in the kids ministry”. Then we give some good ideas, some techniques and tips to influence you, and then you in turn to go and influence others to solve the problem.

If the goal of our leadership and discipleship is love, then what I just explained is insufficient. It has nothing to do with love, it was only about solving problems, fixing things. It does not matter if you do this in a kind way or not, because your goal is to fix a problem not grow people up. It does not matter how I get volunteers for kids ministry, as long as we got people into kids ministry, then everybody is happy.

What does it look like to lead in love?

I think our perspective changes. My job as a leader isn't primarily to deliver outcomes, and solving problems, but is to develop people in the midst of the problem. This is our seventh axiom, this is how Jesus modeled leadership. Jesus picked 12 people who he could develop. He didn't pick them based on efficiency or natural competency. He picked them because these are the people He could invest, who would then carry on what He was doing afterwards.

There is a task, Sunday is common with these kids, but my primary responsibility as a leader is developing my children’s minister to discern. “You have ideas, you are taking actions that aren’t working, what’s going on here?” We do this even if the result is that you don't have any kids’ ministry on a certain Sunday.

In the old way of doing leadership you would think, “there's no way that we would ever not have kids’ ministry”. But if your primary goal is to develop the children’s minister, maybe that's an outcome that would be acceptable.

You are not only developing the children’s minister, but the whole congregation. The question is now, how do you help the whole congregation deal with the anxiety, for example of there being no kids’ ministry? A leader would be present and attending to that anxiety. Helping in this way is more important than fixing the problem.

If the goal is developing people, leadership becomes less about influencing people to do what I want, and more about coming alongside people so they can own what they want.

But what about the problem?

Yes, looking for what is practical and wise makes a lot of sense, I'm not opposed to pragmatism, I'm opposed pragmatism without the goal of developing people.

If we look at businesses in North America, there was a time when the average life of a company was about 50 years. This created a more stable community and a more even distribution of wealth. However today the average age is 17 years. We have become very efficient at maximizing profits, at making the most pragmatic choices, but we now have disconnected communities and an ever-growing divide between the rich and the poor.

Today’s society is more and more defended against vulnerability, we have less maturation. This has negatively affected that very workforce that chose those pragmatic solutions. We now have a flight from leadership, an avoidance of taking responsibility. Perhaps the ideal short terms solutions are not the best choice for all.

If we look at Scripture, we see a God who calls us sometimes to do things that don't make a lot of sense. It is not until we see the bigger story that the picture starts to come together.

Often, we lead from our own giftedness and abilities, that is a very natural thing to do. However, leadership is more than living in the realm of ideas and best practices. A leader lives in the realm of responding relationally, not just being right, but been in right relationship with God and with each other. This sometimes leads us to take risks or find ourselves with outcomes we may not prefer.

There must be a limit, right?

Well sort of. If the leader doesn’t take action when social justice has been breached, then others will take matters into their own hands. The leader does need to act to maintain trust of all those they lead, but can still respond relationally.

If for example in schools: at least in Canada, if a student is caught with any form of knife or weapon whatsoever. It's an automatic three-day suspension. It just happens. How do we do this?

We all know the problems when we break the relationship, the child doesn't even want to go to school anymore. The more suspensions a child receives, the worse it gets. We have a problem. How do we bridge this incident and maintain the relationship?

We throw the infraction flag, you say in a matter-of-fact tone, “you know the drill. We have to do the paperwork now. This is what's going to unfold.”

And then, we have to give a communication to maintain the relationship. “I'm sorry this happened. I'll be in touch with you tomorrow. Look out for a call from me, probably around for 5 o'clock. I'll try to keep track of the things that you missed so you don't fall too far behind, we’ll be okay, we’ll get through this.” It a statement of relationship.

The relationship is bigger than the problem. This doesn't mean that discipline doesn't happen. What it means is, it does not divide.

Is this really how we get things done?

I think for most of us, we’ve experienced this form of leadership so infrequently we dismiss these ideas. We think it’s fine for working or playing with young children, or if you are in a nursing home, maybe a small group where not much is at stake. But if you are going to get things done, if you're going to lead and manage a large company or church, you’re going to need something more than seeing people grow.

I want to say that assumption is not true. It is true, many of our companies these days have someone who is very pragmatic and ambitious leading them. But for a company to thrive in the long term it is well known a good mix of relational competency is needed at the executive level. This is so as to balance the CEO who is ambitious with others that will be considerate of the people they lead.

Likewise, Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians that we can preach amazing sermons and performing these miracles, if we don't have love, it’s like a clanging cymbal.

We are cutting against the grain of a lot of inherited assumptions, a lot of cultural baggage, but it is possible to learn to live in this way, where the power of the relationship is the greatest force in the universe, it’s the focus of our leadership.

An Invitation for you to join us further in this conversation.

I have just given you a few of the implications for this axiom, but if this interests you, then I am confident you have found a community here where you can enter that conversation. Sign up for our newsletter and we will continue this discussion together.

Appendix: Three practical steps to engage.

To engage with those we are leading, we need to know how to respond to people’s requests. For example, when we look at the stories of Jesus, over and over He invites people to reflect on their motives.

1. Discovering what we really want.

In the biblical book of Mark, we read about the request from James and John. Jesus had asked them a question “what do you want me to do for you?” and they replied with asking for something that could not be given. He invited the two disciples to consider what it is they wanted and put words to that request even if it was impossible to give.

Jesus then meets Bartimaeus, and he asks him the exact same question, “what do you want me to do for you?” And he answers, “for me to see.” And in that case, Jesus said, okay let it be done unto you according to your faith.

It's not that we always get what we want. It’s about asking this question to find our own will, to find our voice. Then we can own what we want.

2. Temperance of our response.

Next when things are not going our way, we are going to have some frustration. There must be some temperance of our response.

Now, many of us try to feel nothing at all, to fake self-control when we are frustrated. But true temperance is not an absence of frustration at all. It’s the adding in of the opposite emotion of caring. We feel both the frustration and the caring about our response at the same time. This mixing allows us to reflect and respond in a way that is considerate of others and ourselves.

Of cause, this takes practice and time for these neural pathways to develop. A leader will recognize the lack of temperance, and a safe way for this frustration to be expressed.

When Jesus responded to James and John’s request, he was clear that He could not give them their request. Jesus did not sugar coat His response, James and John had no place to go but to feel the futility of something they could not change.

When we parent a child, we know what untempered frustration looks like, it comes out all over the place as aggression. We often have to remove them from the situation till they cool down a little. Adults too have lots of aggression when they are untempered. It sometimes goes inwards or more often comes out in somewhat socially acceptable ways like contempt, complaining or gossiping. But a leader recognizes this too and invites that aggression in a safe way, for it must be released to be named.

3. Adaptation to what we cannot change.

Eventually we come to realise there are things we cannot change. This is that place of disappointment we all go through.

This is the final way we lead through challenges. Our task is to come along side our followers when disappointment strikes. Perhaps we might say “I am here with you through this, I am with you as you face whatever obstacle of leadership you're having.”

This is that moment when a child, a follower or a employee learns from their mistakes and they come up with new ideas to try. It’s where then let go a little of what life was like, and start to move into a new perspective. They had lost their orientation and now the beginnings of a new direction emerge.

To lead by coming alongside another person like this, we need to deal with our own frustration about the interruption to our schedule, and by them not doing the job we hired them to do. This is the hard part, to lay down our ability to control the outcome.