We're in this together

A new concept of leadership

Julia W. Norcott is the associate editor of Ministry.

A few months ago I participated in a two-day seminar on open systems. When I received the seminar materials, I wondered just what was involved. What would I learn? Would this be time well spent? While listening to the principal presenter and later participating in four of the small groups that were part of the seminar assignment, I realized that most of us experienced the same feelings the need for better communication, for really listening to each other, and for showing an interest in the needs and desires of others.

We talked about new ways of working together and new ways of leading. Rather than just telling people what to do, we focused on what we want to achieve and how best it can be done. We got a new concept of leadership, which I would like to share here. Nothing listed below is new, but neither is any of it unessential.

Develop an adequate mission statement.

No organization can even begin to function without a clearly defined statement of its mission. This is especially true of a church, however small it may be. Encourage the group as a whole to be involved in developing the mission statement. Such group involvement brings group commitment with mutual respect and trust, leading each person to affirm, "We're in this together."

Keep the end vision in view.

Short-range perspectives have their place, but the end vision is important. Challenge your members as individuals to develop their own skills and aptitudes. Tap their energy, ideas, and initiative so that the group can reach its objective.

Treat members with respect and care.

This is particularly important in times of change and moments of challenge. We live on the information superhighway. Every day we experience change. Computers are updated so fast and programs are changed so quickly that we don't have opportunity to learn even a part of the old program before new ones hit us. Such an atmosphere of change is not only challenging but stressful and calls upon leaders to be supportive of their members and help them to meet the demands of change smoothly. People are individuals with feelings not pawns on a chessboard.

Cultivate effective communication with people.

Communicating in ways that may have served well in the past may not work in today's global village. Experiment with new ways of getting your message across. Cultivate understanding with each member of the group. Promote interpersonal relationships. Listen to their feelings. Give importance to their opinions. The critical thing is not what you do to people, but what you do with them. Do you help them grow? Are they partners in achieving your group mission and vision? If they feel they are, they will respect you and continue to appreciate your leadership.

Be authentic and relevant.

No one believes the message if they cannot believe the messenger. Leaders must use their own voice and act on what they say. Posturing and pretending are shallow partners in leading others.

Avoid cynicism. One study shows that 48 percent of American workers no longer believe in their companies. They do only enough work to keep from being fired. They can be motivated to do more only through incentives that are significantly more than mere money.

For example, in Cincinnati, Precision Lens Grafters revamped their mission along the lines of "we are helping the world to see." Most workers at Lens Grafters felt some real connection between their job and the business of helping others improve their lives by improving their sight. They not only help their neighbors to see better, but also travel to developing nations, where the donation of their time, talent, and materials provides eyewear for thousands of people with impaired vision. The people in this company know they make a difference.

Provide foresight and focus.

Foresight means conveying the big picture the process of looking out and into the future. Focus means gaining clarity on the real issues. Poor leaders juggle dozens of messages, clogging the airwaves. Successful leaders clear the air by communicating few key messages with foresight and focus.

Cultivate interdependence.

This means having a vision that connects everyone. We are dependent upon the interdependence of all members of our churches. Communicate our message about God's great love and that He is coming again in such a way that it will really appeal to them. Learn from each other. Treat them as equals.*

That's the Jesus way of leadership.

* Laurie Beth Jones, Jesus, CEO (New York:
Hyperion Pub., 1995).

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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Julia W. Norcott is the associate editor of Ministry.

December 1997

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