After completing my Executive MBA, I considered pursuing a PhD in Transformational Leadership. I took additional courses in Leadership and Organizational Development and Change as I considered this track. Then I went to my first Robert Fritz workshop, and learned more in four days than I did in two semester long leadership courses. The following are notes from my Enhancing Leadership Skills class with Dr. Bill Bommer at Georgia State. I have edited and adapted them for church leadership.
Pragmatic Leadership. Over the last two decades, a fad frenzy has developed, and many leaders have tried to implement off-the-shelf solutions to organizational problems. Attention spans have shortened, and the quick fix is the preferred strategy. There has been an explosion of consultants. A major problem is that most change efforts require loyalty and a long-term commitment. To be successful, leaders must be pragmatic.
There are four faces to pragmatism:
1. Context. You must look at new ideas with a keen understanding of what may be possible within your context. Often we see a successful program at another church and try to cut and paste it into our context. Ideas have to be adapted. Leaders need to know the history, what has worked in the past, and what has not.
2. Willingness to Make Do. You will never have enough resources to do everything you need. Managers cannot allow this lack of resources stop them from doing. The effective manager will always tinker with what is available to improve the situation. This also refers to the amount of information that managers would like to have before deciding. Waiting for enough data often leads to paralysis by analysis. These trends tend to stack the deck against the manager making a decision. You must balance the cost of a decision without full information against the cost of waiting. Often, we lose opportunities because we spend too much time analyzing the decision. Anyone who has sold a stock or mutual fund for significantly less than its recent high knows what I mean. While you try to decide if the time is right, the bottom falls out of the market.
3. Focus on Outcomes. Often we confuse the goals with the measures we put in place. For example, we all want a healthy church. We tend to look at growth of worship attendance as an indicator of health. Often, the emphasis becomes growth, not health, because it's easier to measure. Pragmatists are always concerned with getting results. They are not so concerned with how to get the results. There are many possible paths to a good outcome. Micromanagers want to tell you every step you must take in the path. Empowering leaders establish the boundaries (clear mission, vision, values, and expected outcome) and let people find their own path.
4. Openness to Uncertainty. The good manager must be able to handle the uncertain situation. You cannot make a strategic or operational plan for everything. The best of us must be able to respond well in crises. Ambiguity is a way of life these days.
The Management of Meaning. Leadership is defined by the interaction between the leader and the follower. The leader's role is to help define reality in a way that makes sense to the followers. The followers must suspend their own definition of reality to accept the meaning being espoused by the leader. This helps us understand why the relationship between the leader and follower is so important, since it is key to the follower accepting the leader's reality. If we accept that the role of the leader is to define reality, then we must focus on the tools that will allow the leader to succeed in defining reality. The reality portrayed by the leader must make sense to the follower. A trusting relationship between the leader and the follower is key to successfully defining reality. Effective leadership depends upon the extent to which the leader's definition of reality serves as a basis for action by others.
In John Kotter's “Leading Change,” the first step he suggests in leading a change effort is to build a sense of urgency. Often this entails helping the church leaders see reality clearly. Often, as a church becomes disconnected from its community, it also disconnects with reality. Also, churches often try to avoid conflict rather than deal with it in a healthy manner. Pretending that conflict does not exist is another way of ignoring reality.
The Dark Side of Leadership. We assume that leadership is good. In reality, there is nothing implicitly positive about any of this. All of the focus on vision and visionary leaders sounds so positive. Many of our experiences of visionaries are not positive. Often they are not rooted in reality. Leaders can be blind to their follies. They can be so intent on their vision that they miss major clues that the vision is inappropriate to the organizational context.
One of the most serious liabilities of a visionary leader occurs when he or she projects purely personal needs and beliefs onto those of constituents. When the leader's needs and wishes diverge from those of constituents, the consequences can be quite costly. As one who has made this mistake, I can attest to the painful consequences. In his book “Transitioning,” Dan Southerland says the difference between a leader and a martyr is two steps. A leader is one step ahead of the people. A martyr is three steps ahead and gets shot in the back.
Leadership Skills. While not everyone has the gift of leadership, everyone can enhance his or her leadership skills. If you do not have honesty and integrity, no other leadership skills will matter. Skills are a learned ability or capacity for action. Most of your skills will be behaviors. To operationalize your skill requires behavior. Traits are underlying and difficult to change, relatively stable over long periods of time. Leaders can learn most of the needed skills. The key question is, "what is the most effective way of learning these skills?" Behavioral modeling, observing in some meaningful way, is effective in learning skills. Mentoring assists in skill development. Literature suggests that informal mentoring is more effective, since there is often more commitment to the relationship.
People are generally unsuccessful in building one skill, or changing one behavior. Until they make a larger system change, they will not move far from present reality. When everything is important, nothing is. Too many priorities are none. Until you are clear what the priorities are, you cannot focus.
Time Management. The most important decision any manager or leader makes is how they spend their time. The key to effective time management is understanding what is truly important. You need to be clear what you can delegate. You need to figure out where you are spending your time. Then you must set your priorities and act on them. There must be consistency between what you say is important and how you allocate your time. If you can't manage your time, you will never find time to master the higher-level leadership skills. When we say leaders must walk the talk, it all starts here.
I have observed executives at the highest levels of the church who have not managed to allocate their time or financial resources towards the initiatives they claim as most important. One of the axioms of business is, "People respect what management inspects, now what management expects." Have you aligned your time with that which you describe as vital priorities?
The Problem Employee. This problem is of epidemic proportions at all levels of management. We see problems with performance, but rarely take action. Managers fear the conflict. It requires emotional labor to take action. You need to step in before a person is labeled by the organization. If you don't, you will create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you handle things early on, it will be much less difficult. You must create clear expectations, and describe the unacceptable behaviors. You must actively manage your early impressions, because these are very powerful and difficult to change.
The organization recognizes poor performers. When they see managers ignoring performance problems, they quickly lose faith in the leadership. Managers classify their problem employees in three general ways: Talented but Abrasive, Plateaued but Indifferent, Charming but Unreliable. When we do not address the failings of our staff, we become complicit in their failure.
Why Can't Leaders Lead? The mundane will always crowd out the creative. Routine bureaucratic matters will dominate the agenda. Time management courses describe four types of matters that compete for our time: Vital but Urgent, Routine but Urgent (telephone ringing), Vital but not Urgent, Routine and not Urgent. We tend to spend out time on things that seem urgent, whether or not they matter to the accomplishment of our stated goals.
Traits of Leadership. Ambition is a trait that separates leaders from others. Deferring gratification now for a greater reward later is a life skill that is highly predictive of life success. Studies of children show that those who will take three candy bars tomorrow instead of one today will be more successful in their work life. A lot of the necessary traits of leaders are relative to the needs of the followers. The characteristics and skills required in a leader are determined to a large extent by the context and demands of the situation. Most leaders share these certain traits: drive, desire to lead, honesty/integrity, self-confidence, cognitive ability, and knowledge of the business.
Tools of Motivation. Goal-setting is a tool for motivating people. Goals need to meet the SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound). Goals with these characteristics are attained more often than those without. Goals may overly focus behavior. If you find that your pace is not keeping up with the goal, you may become frustrated and give up. Goals might not motivate each individual, since you have a normal distribution of high-performers, low-performers and average performers. If you do not tailor the goal around the individual, there may not be any motivation for those who are high or low on the curve. Individual goals will not encourage collaboration. Setting a goal is an intervention that will have consequences, and they are not all good.
To effectively utilize goal-setting, you should:
Make sure the goal is around a controllable outcome
Allocate sufficient resources towards reaching the outcome
Limit the number of goals established
Prioritize the goals and weight each one to guide focus
What is the role of the leader in terms of motivation? The leader should focus on creating an environment that will encourage motivation to happen. The leader must get in touch with the needs of the employees so attempts to motivate will be on target. The leader must provide things that the environment doesn't. The leader fills in the voids. It is the person that matters. Think of a bucket of motivation. You can fill that bucket in three ways. Motivation can come from the person, from the job, or from others (peers and managers). The more you can fill the bucket by building motivation into the job, or into the person, the less falls on the boss to provide.
What Motivates People? Challenging work, achievement, recognition, responsibility, and autonomy are things that give intrinsic worth to work and provide motivation. Within the church we have an additional factor that adds tremendously to motivation. There is no greater satisfaction in life than to be involved in a noble mission. When we help root people in their gifts, and discern their calling from God, we can equip them and set them loose to live out their purpose. As they do so, they will experience joy and satisfaction that motivates them to do more.
As we build relationships with people, and seek to help them find purpose and a calling, we also motivate them to support the greater goals of the church. When people see the leader cares about their hopes and dreams, and their personal vision, they become much more invested in helping the leader achieve the shared vision of the organization.
Another path to motivation is job enrichment. To enrich jobs, you need to:
Remove some controls while retaining accountability.
Increase the accountability of individuals for own work.
Give a person a complete natural unit of work.
Grant additional authority to an employee in his or her activity, job freedom.
Make periodic reports directly available to the worker rather than to the boss.
Introduce new and more difficult tasks not previously handled.
Assign individuals specific or specialized tasks, enabling them to become experts.
Five Rules for Applying Behavior Modification. Behavior modification is the application of reinforcement theory.
Use appropriate rewards or punishment.
Supply ample feedback, and make it behavior-focused. The more feedback you give, the tighter the link between the behavior and the reward. Feedback is central to the role of coaching. This rule is often ignored. People do not like to give negative feedback. It takes time to develop the feedback. Leaders also have their own work to do--supervision is in addition to their workload. Often the feedback is about attitude and not behavior. It is crucial to focus on behavior. Too often, people feel they must schedule a feedback session, rather than just dropping in for a quick moment. Would a puppy better learn to go outside if we wait for six months and then show it all the mistakes on the carpet?
Do not give everyone the same reward. Make the reward match the accomplishment. Often, praise and recognition are as powerful as monetary rewards for accomplishing goals.
Rewards and punishments should follow closely in time. People do not learn over long time cycles. We are wired to notice quick changes in our environment. You can focus on the process as well as the outcome to shrink time for the people. This allows you to break up long processes and reward progress.
Change the reward periodically. People will acclimate if the reward is the same for too long.
Rules for Feedback.
Focus on specific behaviors. This is one that is violated the most. “Bad attitude” is not acceptable feedback. What are the behaviors? Many managers cannot name the behaviors. Often our feelings about the person cloud our ability to be objective. Managers have to have clear expectations about what should be done.
Keep it impersonal. Separate your feelings about the person from their objective performance.
Keep it goal-oriented.
Make it well timed. Do not immediately give feedback when an employee is recovering from a big mistake. Let them process a little first.
Ensure understanding. Have the employee repeat back to you the feedback to ensure understanding. In dealing with problem staff, give them the feedback in written and verbal form.
If negative, make sure the behavior is controllable by the recipient. There's little value in reminding a person of some shortcoming over which he or she has no control. 85% of the time, the problem is the system or the job and not the person.
Tailor the feedback to fit the person.
Four Techniques for controlling behavior:
Positive Reinforcement. When they do a behavior, they receive positive stimulus so that they will repeat the behavior. People feel free when positive reinforcement is used. The other ones come with baggage and feel coercive. It increases citizenship behavior.
Punishment. The goal is to decrease undesired behavior.
Extinction. Removing a positive reinforcement to drive out some behavior.
Negative Reinforcement. Take away something negative to get them to do something more often. If we hit this level of performance, we won’t shut the plant down. The threat goes away if the right behavior happens.
The Folly of Paying for A while Hoping for B. Reward systems that are fouled up often reward behavior that organizations are trying to discourage. When we give raises for seniority and bonuses based on tenure, we are rewarding the mediocre at the expense of the high performer. Often you are not rewarded for the behavior that the organization wants. Most coaches hate to discuss individual accomplishments, preferring to speak of teamwork, and a one-for-all spirit. Usually, however, rewards are distributed according to individual performance.
In general, the application of empowerment has been so bad that it has not created anything near the intended consequences.
Charismatic Leadership. Origins of the idea are leadership as a gift from God. Leadership is formed in the interaction between the leader and the follower. It is not a part of the leader or follower distinct from each other.
The early areas of study of charismatic leadership are religious or political. Charismatic leadership often emerges when the group is in a difficult situation and need someone to lead them to a dramatically different reality. The need for large-scale social change will often bring forth charismatic leaders. Followers who look for charismatic leaders often have low self-esteem. They look for someone who can help them with higher level needs of belonging, making some noble change. You can't really separate the leader and follower. The major charismatic leaders in history cannot be separated from their context. Would Hitler have emerged if Germany had not suffered the humiliating defeat of WWI? These leaders have the ability to come through in a crisis. Crisis is almost a necessary condition for charismatic leaders to be successful. A deep need on the part of followers is a precondition to charismatic leadership.
Communication is at the core. The message must be right and the time must be right. Prior success gives the leader more charisma. We are looking at an extremely complex leadership interaction. One of the relevant behaviors is helping people learn how they fit into the big picture. The charismatic is able to define the reality for other people (up to the point of suicide for some).
Transformational Leadership. Transformational leadership behaviors operationalize the charismatic relationship. There have been studies of six behaviors of transformational leaders:
Identify and Articulate a Vision: Developing, articulating and inspiring others with his or her vision of the future. The content of the message would be different depending on the context (CEO or foreman).
Provide an appropriate role model: Setting an example, practicing what you preach.
Foster acceptance of group goals over individual goals: Setting goals for coordinated action by the group. Cooperation is essential for accomplishment.
Set high performance expectations: The Pygmalion Effect. If you set high standards, people will stretch to meet them if you demonstrate your belief in them.
Exhibit Supportive Leader Behavior: Providing positive feedback, knowing the names of employees and their family members. Take an interest in the person as an individual.
Intellectual Stimulation: Challenging the followers to re-examine their mental models and assumptions and rethink how their work can best be performed.
The effect of these behaviors is to increase trust, job satisfaction, and job performance. The result is performance beyond expectation. Trust is the trigger for the improved performance. People are willing to go above and beyond if they trust their leader. The link to satisfaction is not as tight, because the leader is only one component of satisfaction, where trust is directly attributed to the leader. This is a very personal issue where people identify with their leader, not the organization. People do for other people, not for the organization.