A co-worker arrived at the door of my office waving an angry email from one of our most talented adult education teachers. The teacher was disgruntled because she had forgotten to let us know about some teaching supplies she needed, and felt unprepared in her classroom as a result. Yet her email (unjustly) blamed my co-worker for the oversight.
Whatever demeanor you demonstrate as you react to surprising obstacles, resistant individuals, or roadblocks will be the demeanor that your team members, paid or unpaid, will adopt.
As team leader, I had a choice. I could have said to my co-worker, “Wow, what’s wrong with this woman? She is really out to lunch. Zing her back with an email that lets her know in no uncertain terms that it’s her fault, not yours!” With a reply like that, I would have immediately given my co-worker permission to become angry and retaliatory toward the teacher. It would have given her an excuse to feel superior to one of our servants.
But instead, I quickly thought through how to keep my colleague’s servant leadership attitude intact, keeping her connected to her call to serve our servants, not to look down on any of them. So what I said was, “Hmmmmm … I wonder how the miscommunication happened between the two of you? I’ll bet she did feel frustrated not to have everything she needed, since she places such a high value on teaching her class well — and we certainly appreciate that. Why don’t you email her and apologize for whatever communication breakdown happened? It’s really not necessary to spend time trying to pinpoint whose fault it was. Then maybe you can suggest a new route by which she can alert you by a certain day of the week about her upcoming classroom needs. Come up with a schedule that you can both agree to and put on your calendar to remember. Or ask her if she has a better idea on how the two of you can communicate about her needs every week so that she will feel totally prepared and supported — that might help.”
Whatever demeanor you demonstrate as you react to surprising obstacles, resistant individuals, or roadblocks will be the demeanor that your team members, paid or unpaid, will adopt. Make a habit of giving the benefit of the doubt — believing the best of individuals, seeing their strengths and gifts, and looking for solutions — rather than nit-picking for what you can disparage.
React calmly to whatever calamity or issue is presented to you. It’s a liability when a leader is so reactionary that a team fears (or avoids) telling him or her what is happening! Practice presenting words and an attitude that convince those whom you lead that a solution will be found, God will guide, resources will be provided, and a path through whatever is ahead will show itself. Your team desperately needs you to demonstrate contagious confidence in God’s provision and adequacy as well as the team’s ability to forge ahead and conquer.
This article is adapted from Sue’s book Ultimately Responsible: When You’re in Charge of Igniting a Ministry (Abingdon Press, 2006) and used with the publisher’s permission. It is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.