Tag Archive - authority

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2 Big Leadership Questions you Probably aren’t Asking

I want to thank my dad, David Alexander, for this guest post. Retired from a career with the Department of Defense in which he oversaw billions of dollars of government assets and hundreds of employees, today he enjoys fishing, his grandkids, and driving my mom crazy! Love you dad, hopefully some of your leadership experience rubbed off on me. And hopefully this post helps church leaders think a little differently about leadership.

Do you know who you work for?

Seems like a silly question, I know. Let me explain… I was once asked to work for the Under Secretary of The Navy for Research and Development for a few months in order to help with the work load. While there I worked for the Deputy Under Secretary, Rear Admiral Dave Oliver. My first assignment was to give a briefing about our lab facilities on the west coast to the new Under Secretary who was a new appointee under the Clinton Administration.

The Under Secretary had a very large office as far as Pentagon standards and had a great view of the Washington monument.  There were a number of Navy Captains, high level civilians as well as the Under Secretary in the room. Just before my brief, my boss, ADM Oliver told me to be sure to introduce my self and explain I was on loan from the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command to ADM Oliver. He was standing in the back of the room and had a smile on his face. As I started my brief, and introduced myself and who I worked for, the Under Secretary stopped me in mid sentence saying, “Mr. Alexander, I want you to understand, you don’t work for ADM Oliver you work for me!” Sometimes people, especially political appointees, feel the need to flex their positional authority mussels. The ADM was now laughing and trying to hide it and pointed at me from the back of the room. Nothing wrong with positional authority, sometimes it’s a way to get things accomplished. ADM Oliver totally set me up and he thought it was very funny. But there’s a real lesson here. No matter how large or small an organization, in which you serve, you need to know who you really work for and who your boss really is. I can tell you, it’s probably not your direct report! Maybe it’s others….or just maybe ADM Oliver was just trying to make me, the new kid, feel like part of the team, could be he just needed a good laugh, not sure. But that was the high point of the brief. From that point on, I always made sure who the boss really was.

What are your priorities ?

You can get all sorts of answers to the question of priorities in the work space. As the Executive Director of the Nuclear Submarine Base New London, Groton CT. I had the privilege of working with various unions and union leadership representatives. Having some important info I wanted to discuss with the union leadership representatives and members I asked that they meet with me at close of the business day for an hour and that I would pay them overtime for the hour.

We had two shifts on base so I asked each shift to meet with me at 1600 (4pm for those who may not know how the military tells time). To make a long story short my HR division head informed me that paying union members over time to attend a meeting was against the rules and that I can’t have the meeting. I thanked John, my HR Director, for his input, but that I was having the meeting anyway. He decided to report me to HR headquarters in Washington DC!

Bold move to say the least since I signed his pay check. I had the meeting and a couple of months later I received a phone call from the senior officer on the base. It was the ADM in charge of water space management for submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. Although not in my chain of command, since he was the senior officer on the base he had lots of positional authority (goes to knowing who your boss is). The ADM called me first thing in the morning one Monday and asked if I would come see him. He was just being polite. Of course when the ADM asks you to come see him your not going to say no. Sitting across from his desk he said “David did you have a meeting with the union folks and pay them overtime to attend?” I told him I did. Then he asked, “Would you do it again if you needed to.”  I simply said, yes I would. He then crumpled up a letter on his desk and made a perfect swish to the trash can (I’m thinking two points!) and said, “I thought so.” That was the end of our brief meeting that morning. I could tell because he stood up and turned to ask his administrative assistance something, so I simply exited his office. That’s how things are done lots of times.

I assumed it was a letter from HR headquarters talking about my transgression with paying the union folks. I later found out it was.

Even though I had much to do each day, one thing was always more important than the issue at hand. That was making people a priority. Knowing your priorities is key to success and I believe in most organizations the priority is your people. Do what’s best for them, sometimes it may have to be in spite of the rules. But if you do decide to break the rules, you need to be sure it’s the right thing to do.


Posted in Leadership, Testimonial

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Leading with Authority without Abusing Authority

You don’t have to look very hard in society to find examples of people in authority abusing their authority. Unfortunately in the church where you’d expect things to be different it seems like it rarely is. In a recent conversation with a church leader they asked me if they really had to be a jerk to get things done and be a successful leader in a church? I don’t think they do and I don’t think you do either. It’s possible to lead with authority without abusing authority.

#1 Positional Authority

We follow people who have positional authority in our lives because we have to. They’re in a position of authority in our lives such as a parent, teacher, boss, or ranking officer. We follow these people because if we don’t there are unpleasant consequences that we’re forced to deal with.

#2 Expert Authority

We follow people with expert authority because of the wealth of experience or knowledge that they have. These people have something that we don’t and are recognized as experts in their field, which naturally places them in an authority role. We listen to them because they have something that we want.

#3 Moral Authority

We follow people with moral authority because we want to. These people don’t ask anyone to do anything that they’re not willing to do themselves. They know it’s not wise for them to do every job in the organization while understanding that no job in the organization is beneath them. They serve the organization instead of having the organization serve them. They lead out of who they are and allow people close enough to them to see that they are who they are all the time and in every setting.

Jesus could have led with positional authority after all He is God in the flesh. But He didn’t. Jesus could have led with expert authority after all He created everything that exists and is pretty much the expert on…well everything. But He didn’t. Instead Jesus led with moral authority. He submitted to His Father in the garden saying, “not my will but yours be done.” He said, “If you want to be first you have to be last,” and He put our needs in front of His own. He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” and He went to the cross first.


Posted in Leadership, Staffing

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How to Speed up Decision Making at your Church

After working with over 25 churches across the country this past year, I realized there is a common challenge that growing churches face. It’s a challenge that frustrates leaders, slows progress in critical areas, and causes an undercurrent of strain between teammates. This challenge is lack of clarity around decision making. When churches are small, and there are a few leaders who lead the church, it’s pretty clear who makes what calls. But as churches grow and more leaders are added to the team, it’s not long before confusion sets in around “Who gets to make what decisions”. Often all decisions start to feel like we have to have total consensus to move on anything. Did I mention frustration sets in?

About 5 years ago the fog lifted for me. On a team retreat, our Executive team had the privilege of working with Jim Dethmer, Co-Founder of Conscious Leadership Group. He walked us though an exercise called Decision Rights. He said before a decision can be made, the team has to first decide how the decision will be made. Who holds the decision rights?

The chart below illustrates the 7 ways decisions can be made. The two variables to keep in mind are the amount of time it takes to make a decision and the level of buy-in it generates.

7 Levels of Decision Rights

  1. Leader Decides: This is the quickest way to make a decision because no other input is required in the decision making. A leader is simply appointed to make the decision. Buy-in is often very low at this level.
  2. Leader Decides with Input: A leader is appointed to make the decision, but is also instructed to get input from others prior to making the decision. Because other voices are in the mix, there is an increased level of buy-in.
  3. *Sub-Group decides: A small team or a sub-group is tasked with making the decision.
  4. *Sub Group decides with Input: The sub-group makes the decision after getting input from others.
  5. Majority Vote: Just like it sounds, once options have been discussed, whichever option gets the most votes wins.
  6. Consensus: Consensus is reached once all team members involved in making the decision are no longer opposed or are neutral towards the option that’s been laid out.
  7. Alignment: Different from consensus, alignment requires that all team members are in total agreement that it’s the right decision.

* For’ Sub-Group’ and ‘Sub-Group’ decides with Input – the sub-group still needs to determine how they will make the decision (Majority Vote, Consensus or Alignment)

Here’s a practical example of how this works. Let’s say your church is out of space on Sunday morning. Your two services are full, and you know you need to launch a 3rd service in the fall. How will, and who will, make that decision? Here are the options:

  1. Leader Decides: You appoint a leadership team member to make the call. It takes very little time to make the decision, but also creates very little buy-in. There will most likely be a lot push-back and complaining from the team members that have to rally their teams to accommodate this decision.
  2. Leader Decides with Input: You appoint a leader to make the decision, but require them to go and talk to the key ministry leaders that will be impacted by whatever decision is made. While not adding a lot of time in the decision-making process, the leader has more wisdom in making the best decision, and a little more buy-in is created.
  3. Sub-Group decides: You appoint the heads of worship, ministry, and operations to make the decision. You feel they know their areas and will make the best decision with the time you have to make the decision.
  4. Sub Group decides with Input: Same as above, but you add time and potential buy-in to the process by requiring them to get input from all of their team leads.
  5. Majority Vote: The leadership team brainstorms all of the options, narrows it to three, and then you take a vote. The option with the most votes wins. (By the way, Majority Vote can be good for a lunch decision like “Chipotle or Chick-fil-A” – but not much else.)
  6. Consensus: All of the options are vetted by the team and then each team member gets a vote – opposed, neutral, favorable. Our team did it this way. Once the options were narrowed down, and there appeared to be a leaning towards the best service time, we would do a rock-paper-scissors style vote. On the count of three, we would put each put out the number of fingers that represented our perspective. 1 finger=opposed, 2 fingers= still opposed, but less strongly, 3 fingers= neutral, 4 fingers= favorable with a few remaining concerns, 5 fingers= very favorable. Once we were all at a 3 or above, we had “consensus”.
  7. Alignment: Drawing from the last illustration, everyone on the team puts out 5 fingers. One 4 – and you do not have alignment.

3 Key Learnings as our team adopted the Decision Rights model:

  1. Not every decision warrants consensus. Different types of decisions warrant different types of decision rights. By thinking through what level of buy-in is needed and how much time you have to make a decision, this allows the right level of decision making.
  2. You can strive for consensus, but can also have a back-up plan. In this example of adding a service time, you can shoot for consensus, but you also have to make the decision by a certain date in order to allow time for the teams to prepare for the change. The back-up plan, set up from the get-go says, “if we aren’t able to come to consensus by July 31, Jim’s going to decide (Leader Decides).
  3. Bringing clarity in advance to who is making the decision is freeing! Everyone knows their role. If you have no role in it, then you don’t have to expend any energy on it. If you’re giving input, you can speak honestly and openly, and then your job is done. If you have a vote, that’s clear as well.

This is a guest post by Amy Anderson who serves as a Ministry Consultant with the Unstuck Group. Amy served as the Executive Director of Weekend Services for over 12 years at Eagle Brook Church in the Twin Cities, helping the church grow from 3,000 to over 20,000. Today she works with churches of all sizes, providing a fresh perspective and concrete strategies to strengthen their processes, staff health and weekend experience.


Posted in Leadership, Staffing, Testimonial

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5 Keys to Developing Young Leaders in Your Church

It seems like everywhere you turn lately some national church leader is writing about the bleak future of the US Church due to younger generations leaving. Well, recently I spent some time at a place that made me really hopeful about the future of the church in America.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to do some coaching at Ethos Church, a young multisite church located in Nashville, Tennessee. In just 7 years Ethos has grown to 3 locations and more than 2,500 people in attendance, and the rate at which they are baptizing people is in the top 10% of churches in the US! Plainly stated God is using the ministry of Ethos Church to change people’s lives. But what excited me the most about my time with them was everywhere I looked there were young leaders, and not just serving as interns or in some inconsequential role. But there were young men and women in their 20’s and 30’s (the ones in their 30’s were the old ones…I guess that makes me ancient now) who are serving as the Sr. Leaders of this fast growing church.

In working with churches around the country unfortunately churches like Ethos have become the exception rather than the rule. It doesn’t have to be that way. This list below of “5 Things Young Leaders Need” is a great place for your church start.

1. Opportunity

Even leaders who have been gifted greatly don’t start out as great leaders. Someone somewhere gave them their first opportunity. The tough thing about leadership is that it isn’t learned in a classroom it’s learned by leading. In order to grow and develop, young leaders need the opportunity to get real hands on experience.

Question: Does your church give young leaders real opportunities to lead stuff that matters?

2. Access

Young leaders need access to real leadership conversations. They need to be a “fly on the wall” in board meetings, management team meetings, and executive team meetings. They need to watch the Sr. Leaders in the organization lead through the tough stuff and make the big decisions. They need access to ask experienced leaders questions about how they lead and why they do it the way they do.

Question: Do the Sr. Leaders in your church give young leaders unfiltered access to watch real leadership take place and discuss it?

3. Authority

Young leaders don’t just need busy work to keep them occupied. Once they’ve proven they can deliver through following through on tasks being delegated to them they need to be empowered to make real decisions and exercise real authority to accomplish objectives through leading their own teams and delegating to others.

Question: Does your church give young leaders real consequential responsibility?

4. Grace

Part of the nature of being a young leader is making mistakes. Even experienced leaders don’t get it right all the time; and young inexperienced leaders certainly are going to make mistakes, it’s the nature of young leaders. How you respond when young leaders fail matters.

Question: Does your church give young leaders the room to fail?

5. Coaching

Great coaching can make all the difference in the performance of a team or a particular player. Great coaches do four simple things with their players. They train their players before the game, they put their players in game like situations in practice and get “reps” in before the real game happens, they make in game adjustments, and they watch the game film after the game to review and learn from the player’s performance.

Question: Does your church expect young leaders to learn on their own through their own experience or do you actually coach them?


Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation, Staffing

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7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Church Leaders

It’s much easier to identify poor leadership in others than it is in yourself. We have a tendency to judge our leadership based on our intentions and the leadership of other based on the results.

An old Russian Proverb says it this way, “The eye cannot see the eye.”

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to observe all kinds of different Church Leaders who are leading in different sizes and “flavors,” churches. No matter the size or the flavor of the church I’ve seen the following 7 habits come up over and over again. So in no particular order, here are 7 common bad habits I’ve seen in Church Leaders over the years:

1. Crosstalk and Triangulation

I’ve seen far too many times where the dynamics of the church staff are such that staff talk about one another instead of to one another. Usually this is because it’s allowed and even modeled by the Lead Pastor. Biblically (Matthew 18) the scriptures would teach us that if you have an issue with your brother then you go to them, not someone about them. One path is a leadership path, the other is a political path.

2. Dictatorship

We have a saying at the Unstuck Team: “The Team Outperforms the Individual Every Time!” When the Lead Pastor takes a dictatorial approach to decision making and the direction of the church everyone loses. The young Staff lose out because no one delegates tasks that give them the opportunity to learn to lead, the Sr. Staff lose out because they’re not empowered to make decisions which will ultimately result in losing your best team members, and the whole church loses out because no Lead Pastor is as good alone as they are with a great team, no matter how much of a superstar they are.

3. Unclear Expectations

When expectations are unclear it always leads to frustration, disappointment, and let down. It’s true in our more important relationships and it’s true in leadership. Lead Pastors can set their teams up for success by drawing a clear target on the wall and agreeing to and writing down clear, attainable and measurable goals.

4. Micromanagement

Some Lead Pastors are so insecure that they’re incapable of trusting their teams. They feel as though they have to control every aspect of what’s going on in the church, no matter how small. This kind of leader ends up building a team that is incapable of thinking for themselves, which will become a huge barrier to the movement of the Gospel! The first step in combating micromanagement is delegation and the next is empowerment.

5. Hiring Friends

I’ve seen teams go south because a Lead Pastor hires friends instead of the best-qualified candidate for the role. When the vision is trumped by the convenience of friendship it begins to erode trust on the team and trust is the fuel that leadership runs on.

6. Lack of Moral Authority

Nothing is more demoralizing for a staff team than when the Lead Pastor takes a, “Do as I say not do as I do” approach. A simple example of this is when a Pastor says it’s important for everyone to be in a small group but won’t be in a group themselves.

7. Unresolved Conflict

When the Lead Pastor doesn’t keep short accounts and instead allows unresolved conflict to exist it can lead to serious dysfunction on a team. Small gaps between Sr. Leaders at the top appear as huge chasms the further down you get from the Sr. Leadership Team.

What other habits of ineffective Church Leaders have you observed? What would you add to the list? Leave a comment!


Posted in Leadership, Staffing