Overcoming One Of The Biggest Frustrations In Leadership
One of the most commonly asked question we get here at NewSpring Church from staff members at other churches is, “how can I ‘lead up?’ Or, “how in the world can I influence those above me in leadership? OR, “how can I best help my senior pastor” I think it those are GREAT questions…so I asked Shane Duffey, one of the members of our senior management team to write a guest post on this subject, trust me, it is well worth the three minutes it will take you to read through this…and by applying what you read here I believe any leadership team can be healthy!
If you are a leader there are a few things I know about you. You are a decision maker, you can communicate vision and direction, you are driven, you have experienced victory and you have experienced defeat. A leader is only a leader, in my opinion, when all of these things are true. And there is one more thing that is true of all leaders… you have followers. You have a team of people who look to you for direction and challenge and encouragement and at some level they trust where you’re going or they wouldn’t follow you.
Leadership is a high calling and it comes with a lot of responsibility. This responsibility doesn’t end with just the accomplishing of tasks or goals because the greatest responsibility a leader has is to the people he or she leads. The leader’s team is made up of real people with real ideas and with a real desire to succeed both in work and in life. A leader that forsakes the life of those he leads and focuses only on the work they produce will soon find they have no team to lead.
How can a leader both focus on moving the organization forward and at the same time invest into the lives of those he or she leads? I believe one of the answers is to realize that each individual on the team has the ability to both see and do things that the leader may not be able to see or do. And as important as that realization is, it is even more important to create an environment where that leader can tap into the gifts and abilities embodied in each individual team member.
I love working for Perry Noble. He has all the qualities that a leader must possess to be successful. His vision is strong and clear and his ability to rally our team is unmatched. But the thing that really sets Perry apart from most leaders is what he asks of those who follow him. He asks us to lead him.
Perry has set up our leadership team at NewSpring Church to operate in an atmosphere of what he calls ‘mutual submission’. Now, we all know that Perry is the one ultimately in charge or as Mark Driscoll calls it, “the first among equals’, but Perry is clear in his charge to us that he needs us to push on his ideas, question them and state objections to anything we feel is off base.
What Perry asks of his leadership team and from our whole staff is for us to ‘lead up’. John Maxwell talks about this idea in his book The 360 Leader and to paraphrase this concept, it simply means that any leader, at any level, needs each individual on his or her team to apply upon them leadership pressure. No real leader needs ‘yes men’ and no real leader wants to lead in a vacuum of self-assurance. As Perry often tells us, he doesn’t want to be the emperor with no clothes. If something is wrong he needs us to tell him and when the pressure is on, he needs us to help him.
Leading up isn’t just about voicing disagreement with ideas it is also verbalizing support and loyalty when the role of a leader is at its toughest point. Leading up requires honesty and commitment to the leader, even when it isn’t comfortable or easy.
At NewSpring, we understand our priorities when it comes to authority in our organization. Perry has led the way in asking us to first be committed to Jesus and NewSpring Church before being committed to him. So, for me, this makes taking on the challenge of leading up easier to execute because I know that Perry concern is beyond his personal success.
One of the things that cripple so many leaders is a team that feels like it has no voice. I have heard many times the frustration of a friend or co-worker as they tell me of some problem that their boss should, they believe, just know about. I always ask, didn’t your boss trust you to lead in this area? Didn’t he or she give you the authority you need to do what is being asked? Then how can your leaders know there is a problem unless you tell them?
Too many times I have found that person unwilling to take their problem to their leader. They sometimes offer the idea that it’s not their place to challenge the situation and with that attitude they have single handedly crippled their team and their leader. Every leader must create an environment where team members can lead up, but just as important is the commitment for each team member to be willing to lead up.
There have been times Perry has brought an idea to our leadership team and we have pushed back on that idea. Likewise, there have been times where Perry wasn’t sure about an idea but our leadership team has pushed him to move forward. Either way, Perry has been able to trust that his team doesn’t just ‘go along to get along’ but rather we are committed to pushing back or pushing forward to reach the best decision, no matter what type of pressure that puts on Perry.
To be clear, leading up doesn’t just mean disagreeing with your leader, it also means empowering your leader to move forward when they think they can’t. Strength for the follower lies not only in being honest with your leader, but also in a commitment to the organization over the leader.
For me, a couple of simple ground rules I follow help me know how and when to lead up. If it’s a matter of integrity (a personal attitude or action displayed by the leader) then I take that issue to the person in private, one on one. If the issue is a matter of strategy (a idea or plan offered up by the leader), then I address that issue in the team setting, as a part of the over all discussion. Again, this is not just about disagreement, in both cases (integrity or strategy), I can push back or push forward.
Anyone who has a leadership gift and position will rarely find it difficult to put downward pressure on their team to perform. I have found few leaders who are open to and create an environment to accept real pressure from the individuals on their team. Fewer still are the number of followers who will see their responsibility to lead their leader and own the responsibility to do so.
What does every leader need? Every leader needs each person on their team to love the organization and the leader enough to be honest and open… when its time to push back and when its time to push forward. That’s the only way everyone reaches their maximum potential where everyone – organization, team and individual - goes further, faster than you would have ever thought possible.