Most leaders are devout cowards. Yes, I did just say that! I have said it for a number of years. I have had people challenge me on it, but at this point in time, I stick to my guns. I must add though that when I say most leaders, I am thinking of leaders in churches where I have been involved in one way or another. Many (maybe most) of the leaders that I have been associated with have shied away from the tough conversations. They would rather quit and move on than deal with tough issues and difficult people.
I have seen more than my share of sloppy and unacceptable work in Christian ministry because leaders don’t want to lovingly and truthfully confront staff and volunteers. I have had leaders that I coach complain about the work ethic and standards of people who report to them, but don’t want to have the critical conversation, the difficult conversation, the value-changing conversation with said worker/team member. Sometimes people are let go and never told why because such a conversation would have been too painful and uncomfortable.
Recently, I read of a father who was the CEO of a company which employed his son who was being groomed to eventually take over the company. On a particular day, the father saw his son berating an employee in public in a totally unacceptable way that violated company values and human decency. The father immediately invited his son to his office and told him that he wore two hats; boss and father. The father went on to say, I am now putting on my boss hat and telling you that you are fired, as we have talked about this behavior of yours numerous times. After having said that, the CEO then told the son that he was now putting on his father hat and said to his son, “Son, I understand you just got fired, how can I help you?”
It would seem in many leadership circles only the father hat is being worn and not the boss hat when it is clearly needed.
At one of my leadership seminars I had a great conversation with three of the top leaders of the church which hosted the event. The question we discussed was: what qualities are you looking for in younger leaders in whom to invest? We talked about Christ, calling, character, chemistry and competence, which are covered in my “Leaders Who Last” seminars
I mentioned that I am putting increasing value in the “chemistry” part: the skill of connecting and maintaining good relationships with people. Part of this connecting and chemistry would include being able to have (at times) difficult and honest conversations with people. I don’t think most current leaders or potential developing leaders have a problem with commending, but many do with confronting. Learning how to lovingly/truthfully confront others is a skill every leader needs to acquire.
It is what Ephesians 4:15 is saying: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” We need to not be so loving that we are not truthful, but neither be so truthful that we are not loving.
I love Proverbs 20:28 in The Message, “Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.”
Fellow leader, how are you doing on being compassionately confrontational? Is there someone on your team who is the proverbial “elephant” in the room whom nobody wants to confront or to have an honest conversation with? Is it time for someone to put the boss hat on? Is that someone you?