Thursday, October 27, 2011

What Church Leaders Can Learn from Lou Holtz

            Recently, I heard an interview with Lou Holtz legendary football coach. He told the following about his development as a leader.  When he left as assistant coach of a nationally ranked program to become head coach for the first time at William and Mary University, he was full of certainty that the success his previous school had achieved would guarantee success in his new position.  “Unfortunately, I failed to realize that William and Mary had more Marys than Williams,” he said laughingly.  The team was a complete failure his first year.

            He went on to say that in the off season he sat down and took stock about what had happened and what he had learned.  From this he drew what he called “The Three Principles that have guided me all my life as a coach and leader of others.”  What were these?
1.       Always do the right thing.  He shared that a leader can never compromise his or her integrity in either the pressures of success or failure.
2.      Give the best you can of your gifts and abilities.  At William and Mary he simply didn’t have the talent that his previous program had.  He could not ask his players to be other people.  He could ask them to give the best of what they had.  He learned to know this about himself and his players.
3.      Always show others that you genuinely care for them.  He not only applied this to himself but to all the young people under his charge.  He taught them to always show others respect and that they truly cared.   

          I could not help but apply these insights from Coach Holtz to our context as leaders of Christian communities.   First, I thought about the number of situations where I had seen clergy fail because for some reason (or rationalization) they had lost their essential moral compass.  “Act with integrity in the moment” is something we must always live by.  Is there any better description of Jesus or the Saints than that they acted with integrity in the moment; they did the right thing.  I would content that at no point in American history has our community more needed its religious leaders to model this truth.

            Second, I have to admit that here have been many times in ministry that I have felt that I could be the right priest and leader if only I had the right congregation.  I have had to learn, like Coach Holtz, that we only get the people God gives us.  I believe that the shortening length of tenures of clergy in the past 30 years reflects this quest of many of us to find a geographical cure from our present lack luster people.  We only need to look at the Twelve Apostles to be reminded that Jesus built his Church on fairly ordinary people.  A friend of mine used to joke that “it is hard to fly with eagles when you work with turkeys!”  Yet the truth is that we are given who we are given.  In our theology, we believe that God has given to the local community the spiritual gifts and fruit to carry out what God wants in that place. 

            Third, as I often say to clergy at conferences and other occasions, “The ministry is about people, and people need to know that you, as a leader, genuinely care for them.”  Today, I find many clergy who think ministry is about ideas, theology, or some cause.  Some think it is about emails and blogs.  Some apparently even think it is about our success and careers.  Think about this for ourselves.  We have all known people, maybe even leaders, who initially fool us into believing that they really care about us.  However, we learn quickly and sometimes painfully the truth that they did not.  Genuine care is long-lasting.  This is why I think that the long-term pastor is often so effective at influencing a Church.  John Maxwell is famous for saying, “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”  Amen to that!

            Let me close by pointing out that Coach Holtz never described his success as vested in a system, a strategy, or a way of organizing his teams.  He described it in being a model and in relationship to others. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Kind of Staff Person Should You Hire?

Skills and competency are essential, but before you hire someone there may be a more important question to ask yourself
If you are the Rector of a program size church, one critical issue you face is the hiring of new staff members.  Of course, smaller churches have staff too, but these are different from the staff of larger churches.  Large churches often have staff members that have responsibility for significant areas of congregational program and ministry. 
Over the years, I have hired staff and assisted other clergy in this task.  Of course, there are critical issues such as position description, compensation, expectations and the like that are important, however I think there is a much more fundamental question that the Rector should has herself before starting the search process.  “Do I want to hire the best and brightest person for this work, or would I rather have a competent person who can carry out responsibilities, but who will remember that I am the best and brightest person in this organization?”  Let me explain.
I have noticed that there is a fundamental attitude in leaders about how they see themselves in relationship to the people they hire.  For people like Bishop Claude Payne, my boss for over nine years, the critical issue was hiring people who shine out in their work. (Let us call this kind of person, the A Type Leader.)  People like Bishop Payne operate with a broad sense of delegation, delegating authority as well as responsibility.  They expect staff to perform to high standards and to take the initiative when needed.  They believe that compliments and achievements of their staff reflect positively on them.
For other leaders, the attitude is quite different.  They are very concerned that they are seen as the center or primary person of their organization.  (I will call this person, the B Type Leader.) They also delegate, but mainly responsibility, not much authority.  Personally and emotionally, they are uncomfortable when members of their staff act independently or take the initiative.  They can be uncomfortable when staff members are complimented or shine forth. 
Now, I want to be clear.  I have known very effective leaders of both kinds, but what I am suggesting here is that it is best to know which kind of leader you are.  Otherwise, hiring becomes more difficult, and expectations are often unclear or miss-communicated.  When such things happen conflict results.  Conflict with staff is often the most difficult and costly things that can happen in a larger congregation. 
Further, not all potential staff members are comfortable with both these kinds of leaders.  Some, like me, function best with high autonomy.  I work best with an A Leader.  Others like a greater sense of security and direction.  These people prefer a B Leader.
Unfortunately, both A and B Leaders tend to think that they want the best and brightest staff and want them to shine forth.  On three occasions, a B Leader asked me to help prepare a short list of candidates for a parish position.  He told me that he wanted the “best possible” person and I assumed this meant an outstanding person in the area of ministry.  I was confused when the leader chose the person that I felt was least able on the list.  On the other occasion, the leader passed over my recommendations and chose a person that he felt was just better suited for that congregation.  It took me a while to figure out that I had a B leader. 
I can take this further to say that this B Leader had and continues to have conflict with staff members.  He tends to hire people perceived as the best in their field and then becomes unhappy when they are perceived by the B leader to be either insubordinate or disloyal. 
However, I have also known A Leaders that got into conflict with staff members, particularly staff members who were correctly perceived as highly competent, but who wanted clearer direction or were low risk takers. 
I may have said enough in this blog to help you understand which type leader best describes you and how you prefer to operate.  Unfortunately, experience has shown me that some leaders, even quite successful ones, do not necessarily have insight about their own behavior or expectations.  If you are a leader who is unsure about which of these two descriptions best suit you, there are at least three ways to get meaningful feedback on this.
First, give a copy of this blog to your spouse and ask them which type best describes how you operate.
Second, give a copy of this blog to a trusted and competent lay leader, and then ask her which best describes you.
Third, and perhaps the most insightful, give a copy of this blog to a former staff person and ask him which best describes you. 
Did I mention that feedback can sometimes be difficult?  Unfortunately, it is often the best road to insight.