Are you leading in a way that inspires, invites, and engages others? Katie Carson Phillips outlines six basic leadership practices that support greater collaboration and more meaningful engagement.
Does your church suffer from a lack of committed involvement? Your committees may be full. People may show up. But they lack passion, investment, and a willingness to act. It’s tempting to put the blame on others. But ask yourself if you are leading in a way that inspires, invites, and engages others in meaningful ways. I have found six basic practices that strengthen a culture of collaborative leadership that can light a fire that ignites more meaningful engagement.
1. Know people.
Knowing people is more than an introduction. It’s a willingness both to know and be known. Knowing requires a level of healthy vulnerability. A pastor told me once when I complimented him on how easily he chats with strangers, “You’d be surprised how eager people are to be heard. People just so rarely ask a question and then make it their job to really listen.” Knowing people is an invitation to be in relationship; it’s a seeing of more than just the category, job description, or title – but the person, the creation of God.
2. Widen the circle.
It’s so easy for each of us to get stuck in a certain way of behavior or a certain manner of leadership. We have been formed and influenced over many years. It can be difficult to be soft enough to continue our own formation. A starting place is to ask the question, “To whom am I listening to in order to learn more?” Recognizing who is influencing me — and whether they embody the diversity we have or long for in our congregation — is a valuable step in widening the circle. Who else should be asked their opinions, feedback, thoughts, and ideas?
Widening the circle means inviting people to share authentically and expecting that they have something of great value to offer. Widening the circle also means understanding that teams are stronger than individuals. This multistrand cord approach broadens and deepens — but also strengthens. Having more than one leader means that all leaders need to check their own assumptions, their own pride, and their own willingness to share. It means choosing to see the genius in others, and joining ideas with a “yes, and…” approach instead of one-upping one another or being competitive so as to hold on to the title of “in charge.”
3. Be patient.
It’s the big picture, the long game, the slow burn, the slow and steady that wins the race. We’ve known that truth since we were children engaging the tortoise and the hare. But we have somehow come to believe that everything worthwhile must happen immediately. Leading change in church has often been compared to turning a cruise ship. While turning a speedboat is faster, it ultimately affects fewer people. To conduct change requires the patient work of building trust, listening, sharing, collaborating, planning, and executing. Being patient can be challenging, especially when we are sure our new idea or new plan is right. But moving too quickly can often mean that there is not the support, shared vision, or building blocks in place for a new idea to sustain beyond the energy of the initial leader.
4. Take care of people.
Taking care of other people is about really seeing with whom God has placed you in any given season. If we recognize God’s creative breath in God’s people, then we have a responsibility to take care of God’s work. There is power in believing in your team. It’s not naivety about the intrinsic difficulties real people bring with them. Rather, it’s looking honestly at the people God has placed you with in this season and choosing to see God in them. More than that, you are choosing to walk with and encourage the unique imprint of God that each person carries. What are their gifts? What are their passions? What is the intersection where those things meet a need in the world? Once that is known, we have a responsibility to praise, to endorse, to lift up as opportunities to love the other. It also means to call them forward as leaders in God’s mission in the world. Giving people healthy responsibility or a compelling ask means more than inviting them to a meeting. It means trusting them with valuable, important work.
5. Communicate purpose.
All teams form around purpose and they bond by pursuing that purpose. Purpose can’t just be communicated once. Our human failures will distract us from the mission and from believing that we are capable of carrying it out. So, we must continue to refocus on mission and purpose as we experience the foibles of our own lives. We all need to be reminded of our why. Otherwise pride, success, tradition, or selfishness can replace the guiding vision. We too easily get stuck in our ways or distracted by the whims of success or failure. Keeping the vision at the center is integral to the work of the leader.
6. Model what you believe.
Jesus was a leader not solely because of his vision and communications skills but because his life embodied his message. We too must model what we believe. Our skills will only get us so far if the rest of our story doesn’t share the same message. Each of us must examine the use of our time, our talent, and our treasure and follow the crumbs of those stories back to their source. If we find that our time, talent, and treasure only serve us, we have made ourselves an idol. Church leaders are no less vulnerable to this outcome than anyone else. We must examine our lives to ensure that the bits we are leaving everywhere we go tell God’s story, not our own.
Each of these six steps includes opportunities for self-evaluation and program evaluation. They are the beginning point for considering how and why we do what we do so that our work matters, not by our standards but for the sake of the One who calls us to serve. That invitation and that work are attractive and life-giving. It’s the kind of work people want to join not by obligation but by inspiration and calling.