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Christian Leadership Matters: Commitment Trumps Consensus

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Commitment, Professional Church Worker Experiences, and Team

How many times have members of your Board or ministry team said something like: “Didn’t we already decide this issue earlier in the year?” Or, “I don’t think we have enough information to make a decision on that. . . oh, it’s too late? Oh, well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be!” Or, “Is everyone really sure we should have sold that property; let’s discuss it again.”

When those type of questions consistently arise, there are several likely problems: Hopefully it is something simple such as poor note-taking skills. If that’s the issue (to rip-off paraphrase Apple), there’s an App for that: The Minute-Taker’s Workshop.

More likely, however, those type of questions point to something more serious such as: lack of shared vision, lack of vision clarity, or lack of team commitment. Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team states that teams become dysfunctional when they try to constantly formulate consensus rather than commitment. Lencioni warns that when we value consensus more than commitment, we’re setting our ministries (businesses) up for mediocrity or outright failure.

Why Consensus is Insufficient

Leading by consensus is not ultimately possible. People often “agree” for the wrong reasons. Some just want to get home before midnight. Others have a high need to agree with their social group (happens frequently in ministry groups); or people agree with their friend even when he/she might be wrong in order to maintain the friendship. More serious reasons why mere consensus is impossible include: the fear of looking foolish (wrong) in front of peers (silence is safe–sticking your neck out isn’t); not wanting to take the blame for a decision that resulted in failure; general lack of group confidence in decision-making.

When trying to lead by mere consensus, decisions (especially important and difficult ones) almost never happen. Or, when decisions are made, they are decisions filled with compromise and caveats; in fact, trying to lead by consensus can make a “non-decision” desirable when compared to what’s finally “decided.” Additionally, leading by consensus is a type of “group-think” that kills organizational innovation, discourages truth-telling, and prevents valuable dissenting opinions.

What is Leading by Commitment?

Leading by commitment (to use a Stephen Covey phrase) is to lead with the end in mind. Know your organization’s “WHY;” Why do you exist? What is your Mission? What are you trying to accomplish? To lead by commitment the leader must know the WHY and lead strategically according to that WHY.

Once you as a leader know your WHY, invite people to share your passion. If you have an existing Board, “infect” your leaders with your God-given vision that they, too, can share your ministry passion. Then move forward.

Leading by Commitment is to move your organization forward with maximum buy-in in a resolute manner. This means everyone knows and embraces your vision; no one has to guess what you are thinking or where you are going. When a team genuinely commits, they provide the leader with honest emotional support and they support both the leader and one another even when individuals don’t agree with the decision.

Leading by commitment is NOT autocratic or unilateral. Orchestrate good discussion, listen to everyone, think, pray, consider, discuss various options and possible outcomes; LISTEN to the people God has placed on your team, but ultimately, decide on a course of action and create maximum buy-in to your solutions. There are times when some decisions are decided by consensus; but leading ONLY by consensus will lead to unhealthy outcomes.

Principles that help orchestrate Commitment

Creating high-level commitment with those you lead is NOT done in a vacuum. It’s contingent on Lencioni’s first two steps: Build on TRUST [Part 2 of TRUST] — CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE OF CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT. If you were directed to this article and want to build an organization based on commitment, please read the first two articles by clicking the links. Everything starts with Trust and builds from there.

Other principles:

Building on Trust and Creative Conflict, leaders can begin to build high-level commitment among those he/she leads. Toward that end, Leaders must create:

. . . An alignment of Vision. In healthy organizations every leader embraces the same vision and mission. It is my opinion that under most circumstances the leader of the organization sets and directs that vision. Even in organizations with a long history (and even as a leader of a department), the leader sets the stage for team success. For example, each President of the United States is to work under the same constitution according to the same laws and each have, roughly, the same resources with which they can work, yet each administration sets their own national vision and agendas leading to significantly different results.

Therefore, as Principal of your school, you work with the existing constitution and bylaws, you work alongside a Pastor and with a School Board, yet, you set the tone for the School Ministry; it’s your vision for the future (working with the other ministry agencies) that will successfully realize the vision God has given you as leader.

. . . An alignment of Expectations, Roles, Responsibilities. Leaders of healthy organizations set realistic and challenging expectations. If, for example, you consistently allow meetings to start “whenever” everyone happens to arrive, your meetings will never start (or end) on time. After a while, some will question the level of commitment the group has toward the mission of the organization. (I fully recognize that this is often a cultural issue; my culture uses atomic clocks, but others use a sundial. This is only an example, your culture may vary.) None-the-less, people will tend to give a trusted leader what he/she expects from the team. (Note: my sentence says “a trusted” leader; unrealistic expectations will break trust given time.) Expect the best from your team, have lofty (but realistic) goals, encourage your team, give praise for jobs well done, and discourage bad behavior or attitudes.

. . . Overshare a Clear Vision. A friend of mine says: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” That’s not true in every case, of course (I’m thinking beer, here – moderation!). But when it comes to sharing a clear vision, it’s difficult to imagine a situation where oversharing is possible. Complex (and wealthy) organizations spend millions of dollars each year to make sure everyone in the nation knows who they are and why they exist. Is anyone unclear what Amazon does? What about Standard Oil? Or Microsoft? We all know, in fact, we can’t escape knowing. A clear vision must be so well known by everyone in your organization that everyone can (and does) share that vision with your target community. For that to happen, your vision must be memorable and must be constantly re-enforced from the top leaders all the way through your organization and into your community. Even those who do not choose to participate in your organization should (ideally) at least know who you are and what you do.

Regarding the sharing of important information, Lencioni writes about “Cascading Communication” which is simply this:

1) The Leader and Team agree on the message (for example, the important items decided at the Board meeting). They decide on “messaging” that is simple to understand and true; the items that need to be shared.

2)  Within 24 to 48 hours, that message is personally delivered to direct reports (in ministry, that would mean, for example, each Board member takes this message to his/her own committee/team).

3)  Those “reports” would in turn communicate that same message to those in their ministry area. An example here might be: Board member to entire Youth Board to DCE who shares this with his/her parents and youth.

4)  This continues until the “messaging” is shared with everyone in the organization. In the case of ministry, the entire congregation.

The important principle: Information is communicated consistently, quickly, and personally. It strikes me that the more dysfunctional an organization might be, the more important and powerful Cascading Communication will be.

Being Wrong is Better than No Decision. This is a hard concept for many people. But there’s nothing that will kill an organization faster than the inability to make a decision. The world moves too fast for those who cannot decide. Lencioni’s advice: Set Deadlines for decision. He also suggests creating worst-case scenario contingencies in order to help your team make a timely decision. A lot of teams find commitment-decision-making difficult. Fortunately, leaders decide. What makes this particularly difficult? You will sometimes be wrong! Therefore, create an environment that rewards risk-taking (which is what a decision is), and that values forward movement. When wrong? . . . analyze what went wrong, learn something new, agree to decide on a new course, go.

Make Commitment Part of your Culture. For Christian ministries this ought to be an easy concept; we’re all about commitment. But here’s where a culture of commitment battles the majority culture: When an issue is properly discussed and everyone is genuinely heard and all the available data is scrutinized, a decision is made. Too often in today’s North American culture, people will criticize the decision (and/or outcomes of that decision) that “we” made. Healthy leaders and teams spend all the time necessary to get the facts on the table and they hammer out the best possible solution they can. Then, they decide and that decision is now THE DECISION OF THE GROUP. Healthy organizations work together and the decisions that are made are the decision of the entire group, even when an individual preferred the alternate choice. Your leadership team MUST speak with ONE voice; they must consistently demonstrate Commitment to God, the ministry group of which they are a member, and to the overall ministry in which they serve. If a person cannot or will not make these type of commitments, they should not serve in leadership. It’s that important.

By building deep trust among the people we are called to serve, by trusting God and His people and urging constructive conflict, we will set the stage for solid and mature commitment to Christ and His Church.

If you would like to discuss this or any other topic from these articles, or would like to book a workshop or coaching appointment, please contact me. I look forward to working with you and the ministry to which you have been called!


Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

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