A perfect leader doesn't exist

Characteristics that make a leader effective.

V. Neil Wyrick, B.A., B.D., is a Presbyterian pastor in Miami, Florida, United States.

My first pastorate consisted of one small-town church and three country churches. In my entire ministry, I never again worked with such a cooperative group of people. They shared my belief that nothing ventured is nothing gained. My managerial skills were scarcely tested. I would learn, however, that negotiation abilities were a must. In my next big city church, agreement was not always so easily managed.

"If only the seminary had better prepared me in the art of leading." I have heard this constant echo from fellow pastors through the years.

All negotiation takes place in the midst of conflicting interests and potential gains and losses. If there were no differences of opinion there would be no need for give and take. Therefore, we pastors must first be sure an agenda deserves the passion we are giving it, and then we must be able to duplicate that passion in those we are trying to convince. Basically we need to say to our members, "Come stretch with me."

The days when a pastor could command are largely gone. Perhaps they never really existed. The managerial language of the past words such as "blunt," "compel," "rigid" must be replaced by "evoke," "counsel," "stimulate." A leader who is constantly geared for battle and on the defensive only builds walls. As far as possible we need to allow people to love us. We need to give them the gift of feeling good about themselves because we have let them help us. Whether a church staff is paid or voluntary, selling rather than just telling is more than important, it is a must!

A good leader is vitally attentive

Part of any successful leadership guidance is allowing our ears to grow twice as large and our mouths twice as small. Good listeners learn people's hot buttons. Poor listeners create cold shoulders. The ability to really listen is a crystal ball. It allows pastoral leaders to foretell the future. It bequeaths advance knowledge of whether people are preparing roadblocks or laying out stepping stones.

I now realize that often in my early years I was so overwhelmed by my enthusiasms that I failed to hear conflict rumbling as it approached in the background. Today I don't try to sell an idea on the telephone. Listening is more than being aware of words and a tone of voice. Listening with the eyes is equally as important. When we are physically present with people, we can see if we are boring them to death or if their eyes have lighted up! When we are with them, we can watch when their fidgeting fingers send us signals.

We cannot afford to just talk. We must listen with all our senses. I still remember a church officer telling me yes on the phone and voting no at a meeting. I obviously missed clues he might have given had we talked face to face.

Our emotions play a great part in decision making, so attentiveness to others finds and defines their feelings as we observe them care fully. Are the facts they are receiving the ones we are giving, or are they being interpreted to fit preconceived ideas? Is the individual being stubborn, or just slow to understand?

Too much managing and negotiating is like an opera being played out on the stage of life. "Me, me, me" sing out both players while neither pays enough attention to the pros and cons. Change the "me, me, me" to "you, you, you" and it's amazing how much more attention the other person will pay to what we have to say.

"I've always thought that was a good idea," a lay leader said to me. Not thirty minutes earlier he had been firmly against what I was suggesting. I had just practiced "you, you, you" with him and though my ego cried out for credit, my common sense was willing to settle for success without it.

Can a pastoral leader be too nice? Well, it certainly is possible to give organizational subordinates so many opportunities to make decisions that nothing gets decided. We have to have goals, and leadership should submit them: financial, spiritual, educational. If we do not have goals and objectives, without even realizing it, a church may be racing full steam ahead in the wrong direction.

Skills indispensable to leadership

Like everyone else, I have always preferred yes to no, but I have tried to let time teach me what good leader ship skills really are. My conclusions are that certain basic questions must always be asked: (1) Am I unpredictable? (2) Am I a nagger? (3) Do I wear a chip on my shoulder more often than I give a pat on the back? (4) Am I a negative or a positive motivator? (5) Do I allow church employees or volunteers any say in decisions that affect both their work at church and their daily lives? and (6) Do people feel that pleasing me is more important than doing what they feel is best? Are they afraid to suggest what they think is best or better?

Who are good leaders? They are those whom we would follow even if they had no authority. They are environmental experts who keep the atmosphere cool and content while at the same time warm and caring.

"I'm a youth expector, not a youth director," said my youth leader with a grin, but we both knew it was the secret of our youth director's success. A boy or girl, man or woman is "disrespected" when not given the dignity of great expectations. No one seeks insignificance.

Good leadership learns early that delegating is as important as doing. It is amazing how many ministers believe this but don't practice it. It's a common feeling if it is not actually expressed verbally: "If I want it done right I have to do it myself." It's difficult to remember the number of times we've heard this litany or others very much like it.

Why delegate? Even Jesus delegated when He gathered together His special twelve. There are only 24 hours in a day, and being exhausted because a ministry has become an ego trip certainly doesn't deserve commendation.

Some may be happy when you "burn the midnight oil" but no course in managerial efficiency would recommend this, providing you have staff (paid or volunteer) who could be doing what you have chosen to do. In short, are you a perfectionist who wants to rewrite every letter, redesign every bulletin, and re-work every detail of every project?

A parishioner can certainly be counseled more effectively if the pas tor isn't exhausted from trying to do everything. A sermon can receive the time needed to make it better if a minister can accept the fact that other styles of accomplishment may be as good, just different. Ministerial mentors who have accomplished miracles of leadership are those willing to trust other people's abilities.

Good leadership should also some times be physical a hand of encouragement on the shoulder, and joining the labor force on work days. And of course, mental caringly laying out logical reasons why. And certainly spiritual a deep and meaningful praying time for both parties together when their thinking is worlds apart.

Knowing how to deal with faults

No matter how hard we try to be good ministers, or how hard our staff, either voluntary or paid, tries to earn an A, there will still be times when some fault needs to be corrected before it gets out of hand. This is when D.D. should stand for Doctoral Diplomacy. "That was a great idea, but have you thought about . . . ?" "Things are going well, but there is one area I wonder if we should look at more closely." And above all else, when I am really upset about some thing not done or poorly done I wait until another time to criticize.

I will not forget what a senior pas tor once told me jokingly, "You may sometimes be mad enough at some one to kill them, but remember murder is not only forbidden by the Ten Commandments, but it is also not good for morale!"

Simple as it seems to be, the best definition of what leadership or management really is came from a 49-year-old seminary graduate who had been in business before deciding on the ministry. He actually had it framed on his desk: "Good management is getting things done through other people."

John D. Batten in his book, Tough Minded Leadership, says that a good leader is like leather. Not easily dented flexible, durable, supple, tough.

One thing is for sure, leaders in their leading must deal with people. Some of them will be nice and some will be nasty. Some will react with intelligence and others respond with stupidity. Whether it is dealing with the choir director who wants more or less praise music, or the business manager or church treasurer who has become tyrannical, or a lay teacher who is becoming increasingly radical, the fact remains people are people.

Successful ministers are good managers. It is that simple. Certainly Martin Luther was a good manager. He didn't get the Protestant Reformation started all by himself. Yes, he nailed 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, but then motivated by the Holy Spirit, 95 plus other ministerial managers kept it going. And any pastor or evangelist who does not admit he or she cannot do everything hasn't just missed the boat, they've sunk their ship.

A good leader is committed to the development of everyone, not just self.

A good leader does not major in wasted motion and effort.

A good leader is open to initiatives from others, and prays to be saved from the blindness of conceit.

A good leader never forgets that if promotion isn't possible, then ratchet up the praise level.

A perfect leader does not exist.


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V. Neil Wyrick, B.A., B.D., is a Presbyterian pastor in Miami, Florida, United States.

September 2002

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