Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Problems That Get Leadership into Trouble

Introduction
The issues highlighted below are principles I learned while serving “as referee” (and in some cases a participant) in a few church “fights” and were originally written with the intention of helping pastors understand some of the issues that get them into trouble. Initially I was reluctant to share these with a broader audience, but then realized that the principles are apropos to any discussion of healthy leadership. Many readers will identify with one or more of the problems discussed.

For every issue there is a flip side. There is always the “other side of the coin.” This “flip side” issue is especially true for some of the areas covered in this article. For example, pastors usually teach on gossip, and they try to prevent unhealthy and destructive communication within their community of believers. But my emphasis here is the other side of the issue, which is leadership’s unhealthy control of communication among members.

Control of communication among members.
A typical dilemma for leadership is how to create an atmosphere of open and healthy communication while discouraging gossip and destructive talk. There is such a thing as the scorner and the gossip whose tongues can damage good fellowship, but even in a healthy group there are issues and concerns that need to be addressed from time to time. Leadership needs wisdom in this arena. Forbidding people to talk (restricting communication) can be a form of manipulation and a means of isolating people in order to control them. There are verses in the Bible that warn us of gossip and of the discord created by loose and uncontrolled tongues, but leaders have often used this principle to stifle necessary communication, and not allow people to have free communication among themselves when genuine concerns or controversial issues arise that should be scrutinized and honestly evaluated. People should be free to communicate openly on issues that arise within the group, and individuals should have the freedom to communicate their concerns and complaints. The problem here is that leaders often exhort people to not talk, while the leadership itself fails to provide a genuine, honest, realistic, and healthy platform to deal with the real issues.

The apostle Paul tells us we should “speak the truth in love.” With this statement he points out three operative principles that are necessary in healthy relationships. “To speak” means that people should communicate rather than suppressing real issues and concerns. It is not healthy to not speak. The error in leadership is that they often think that it is spiritual for people simply “to not speak.” And so they work at keeping people quiet rather than getting “all the cards on the table” and dealing with the realities, whatever they are. A wise man once told me that God gives us grace for reality not for pretend.

The second and third principles are to speak "truth" and to do so "in love." It is not hard to get people to speak, but it can be difficult to get them to do it in a godly manner. This is probably why leaders can be nervous about encouraging communication. The tongue can set the world on fire, but still, communication is necessary for a healthy community.

I think it is interesting to note here that one real problem in leaders who have control issues is that they fail to provide a platform for individuals on their leadership teams and councils to communicate their real concerns or talk about the real issues that bother them. One tool used in this form of manipulation is to plan such full agendas and organize the meetings so that the individual council members have no opportunity to “let their hair down” and share their hearts. It is possible for every member of a council or board to sit there with a shared concern over a particular issue but remain silent because the head of the group would not include or allow the topic in the agenda. The other aspect of this strategy is that leaders condemn individuals if they talk with each other individually outside the council. As a result the real concerns of people are never addressed in or outside the councils, and the consequences will be a continual stream of frustrated people who eventually leave the church.

In an atmosphere where people are intimidated into silence they become unwilling or unable to speak up, and fail to discuss genuine or perceived issues that are important to them. This becomes a potential volcano waiting to erupt as frustrations develop over time. Unspoken and suppressed problems remain unresolved problems. They build up pressure and may eventually become explosive. Insecurity and lack of integrity create a closed atmosphere where people are afraid to talk. This is an unhealthy protectionism in leaders. It is based on a suspicion and distrust of people. It assumes they will always do the worst if they have access to facts and information. In a healthy group where there is integrity, life, and security, there will be an atmosphere of freedom and openness. People will be able to speak the truth in love, which aides in the growth of the individual and the group.
The tongue can “set things on fire,” but leadership needs to remember that some issues and problems are real. Leadership falls into serious trouble when it views the discussion of a problem as being in itself the problem. This is often an evasive action that diverts attention away from the real issues and causes the real concerns to not be addressed properly. When problems arise, they do not go away by suppressing them. Problems and complaints need to be faced and addressed. It is a mistake to evade people’s concerns and attack them for "talking.” If someone complains that there is a rattlesnake in the Sunday school, you need to at least check the room and make sure there is no snake hiding in a corner before you condemn the person for making you look like a bad housekeeper with his accusation.

Other issues that I would like to discuss are manipulation, control, “using” people, apologizing without apologizing, integrity and truth. We will look at these in subsequent postings.

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