22 Things Learned in 42 Years of Ministry

From a Mentor Dennis Newkirk

I saw this on one of my mentor’s Facebook wall and felt it might be helpful to some of my ministry friends, so I asked his permission to share it. These are random thoughts about his time in ministry. They may not be equal for everyone, but I think many will resonate. 

As my pastor, Dr. Dennis Newkirk was the first pastor to speak into my life as a young adult and encourage me to be a leader for the Kingdom of God. I had been leading for several years already in the secular and business world, but never in the church. He was only my pastor a few years, but they were impactful years. I doubt I would be where I am today without his influence.

Dennis is retiring from his church this Sunday, but he is’t retiring from his calling. He is beginning a new ministry ministering to pastors. You can find him at Facebook.com/NewkirkMinistries

Dennis posted:

For those of you in the vocational ministry, let me offer some reflections on 42 years of ministry. For the rest of you friends, you may be a little interested, I don’t know.

1. All good has been done by God and has not been my doing (Isa 26:12).
2. My family must come second only to Christ.
3. My wife’s job is harder than mine.
4. My children experienced things that they shouldn’t have because of my job.
5. Preachers must always focus on prayer and study.
6. A pastor’s personal spiritual disciplines and the pursuit of Christ is vital.
7. Criticism cannot be avoided. It will always be part of the calling. Some of it is valid.
8. The example we set is as important as what we say.
9. God is faithful all the time, even when we don’t think so.
10. Disagreement is not disloyalty.
11. Satan is always looking for an opportunity.
12. Success has little to do with numbers and everything to do with faithfulness.
13. Ask God for vision, share the vision, give the vision away to those who see it.
15. Pastoring is a marathon.
16. Never give up on people.
17. God’s timing is never our timing, and His is always perfect.
18. Don’t talk or make important decisions when angry or hurt.
19. All church fights are terrible but some are necessary.
20. Pastoring is a lonely assignment.
21. Don’t talk or make important decisions when angry or hurt. (He must have felt this one was worth repeating. Wisdom.)
22. Members will love you and care for you if you give them a chance.

7 False Beliefs of the Leadership Vacuum

Many times a leader can be clueless about the real health of the organization they lead. If a leader refuses to solicit feedback, or doesn’t listen to criticism or stops learning, they can begin to believe everything is under control when in reality things are falling apart around them.

I once watched as a church crumbled apart while the pastor thought everything was wonderful. He always had an excuse for declining numbers and never welcomed input from others. It got bad enough for the church to have to ask him to leave. It was messy. It could have been avoided, in my opinion.

And, sadly, this could be the stories of hundreds of churches and organizations.

The best leaders, however, avoid what I call the leadership vacuum.

I have heard the term leadership vacuum used to describe the need for more leaders, but I believe the biggest void may be within leaders themselves.

The leader in a leadership vacuum believes:

Everyone on the team understands me. It can be equally as dangerous if the leader believes they understand everyone on the team. Healthy team dynamics require a constant discovery of others, asking questions, exploring who people are and where they are currently in their thought processes.

Everyone on the team thinks like I think. This would often be easier, wouldn’t it? The fact is, especially if it is a healthy team, everyone thinks differently. Remembering this and using it to the advantage of the team is a key to good leadership.

Everyone on the team likes me. And, if this is the case they probably also think everyone is glad they are the leader. Being the leader is not a guarantee of popularity. There is a level of respect which a position of leadership brings, but likability is based on the person – not the job title.

My team is completely healthy. We all like to think so, and we like to think we are healthy as leaders. The truth is health is often a relative term. Teams and leaders go through seasons of good and bad and a constant awareness of where we are at any given time is critical to maintain health long-term.

They couldn’t do it without me. And, pride goes before the fall also. Humility is not only an attractive character trait in leadership – it’s necessary for sustainability.

We don’t need any changes. Change is a part of life and a part of every organization. Where there is no change there will soon be decline – and gradual death. Good leaders are good change agents.

Nothing can stop us now. The very moment we think we’ve “made it” we are set up for failure.

When the leader is clueless to the real problems and needs in the organization, he or she is living in the leadership vacuum. The best leaders are aware of the vacuum trap and guard against it in their leadership.

Leaders, have you ever lived in the leadership vacuum? Are you there now?

Have you followed a leader in the vacuum?

7 “BE’s” of Effective Leadership and Management

What you do matters more than what you say.

One of the chief goals of this blog is to encourage better leadership, so I normally write about leadership issues.

In this post, I’m including the term management. I believe the two are different functions, but both are vital to a healthy organization. Whether you lead or manage a large or small organization – or a church – there are principles for being effective, which work with leadership or management,

These I call the “Be” principle. Who you say you are and what you actually do often are two different things in the eyes of people who report to you. Effective leaders and managers learn to manage their “BE”.

Here are 7:

Be aware

To be effective you have to know your team. People are individuals. They have unique expectations and they require different things from leadership. Some require more attention and some less. Use personality profiles or just get to know them over time, but learn the people you are supposed to be leading or managing.

Be open

It’s not enough for you to know them. Let them know you – as a person outside of the role as leader or manager. Integrity is earned by experience. Be transparent enough they can learn to trust you.

Be responsive

Responsiveness should be a high value to leaders and managers. People left in the dark – or wondering how you respond – will never be the best team players they can be. Information is powerful. Don’t leave people waiting too long for a response. They’ll make up their own if you do – and it’s usually not the conclusion you want them to reach.

Be approachable

You can’t be everything to everyone, and you may not always be available, but for the people you are called to lead or manage, you need to be approachable. They need to know if there is a problem – or a concern – you will be receptive to hearing from them. I realize the larger the organization the more difficult this becomes, but build systems – and even more so a culture – which allows you to hear from people at every level within the organization.

Be consistent

Over time, the team you lead or manage needs to know you are going to be dependable. The world is changing fast. It’s hard to know who to trust these days. We certainly need to be able to trust people we are supposed to follow. This doesn’t mean you never change. That would equally be wrong for your team, but it does mean your character and the way you respond to life (change, success and disappointment) should be fairly predictable by the people you lead or manage.

Be trustworthy

Follow through on what you say you will do. If you make a promise – keep it. If you can’t support something – say it. If you’re not going to do it – say no. And, say it on the front end, in clearly understood words, not in a passive way. Don’t say “we will consider it”, for example, if you know you never will. Let your word be your bond. Spend time building and protecting your character. Be the quality of person you would want to follow.

Be appreciative

Recognize you can’t do it alone. Be grateful. Be rewarding. Celebrate well. Love and care for others genuinely and display it by the way you treat them.

What would you add? Upon which of these do you most need to improve?

A Key Component of Easter – Post-Easter Evaluation

Don't Miss It!

Easter is one of a few times a year churches have a unique opportunity to reach people who do not normally attend their church. Most churches spend weeks and – hopefully – months planning for the weekend.

In addition to the normal celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, I love the energy that Easter brings to a church. This energy, if channeled correctly, can fuel a church beyond one weekend per year.

The problem I see with many churches, however, is they stop the work put into Easter services a few days too early. Many churches close the church doors on Easter Sunday, “high-five and give God the glory” celebrate all God did and take a much deserved rest. Nothing wrong with any of this, but if we aren’t careful we leave some of the best work of Easter’s momentum undone.

One of the most important parts of effective Easter services -which help them to last beyond one day – is to spend time evaluating after Easter Sunday.  Make sure you evaluate all areas, from the planning, to the launch, to the publicity, to the recruitment of volunteers, to the actual weekend – and all things in between.

And, while you could do this anytime, as soon as you can evaluate after Easter services the better. We like to do it the week following Easter services. (In fact, I like to start making notes immediately after the services. I tend to forget if I wait to long.)

Most of the time we will meet on Tuesday after Easter to evaluate. Sometimes we are too tired to think on Monday and Wednesday is further removed.

Some of the questions we should be asking:

  • What worked? Where did we hit home runs?
  • What didn’t work? What did we miss?
  • Did our times of services work?
  • How should we adjust our times? Are there places to add services or services we no longer need to do?
  • What was a first-time visitor experience like? Could it be improved?
  • What follow-up with visitors do we need to do now? (This should be planned in advance, but now you review your plan.)
  • What changes would we make next year in things we offered those who attended? (Could be programs for age-graded ministries, special brochures, better maps of the church, etc.)
  • What did we do, which seemed to have the greatest impact?
  • What did we do, which took a lot of work, but seemed to have little or no impact?
  • What groups of people did God bring to the church? (Many times, you’ll see patterns – lots of single moms, young couples, young professionals, etc.)
  • What cool stories did we hear?
  • Are there any random ideas of things we could do to improve the Easter celebration next year?

Don’t close the books on this year’s Easter services until you evaluate.This time next year, you will forget the answers to many of these questions.  This should be one of the best brainstorming sessions you do all year. (If you are a single-staff church or smaller staff, bring key volunteers into this discussion. This is just as important – if not more – in the smaller church.)

Ask the questions, record the answers, then use them to make your church better all year and save that information to improve even more next Easter.

Also, and equally important, you need someone who is good at record-keeping and will be organized to remind you of these things next year. If only the “big picture” people participate you may never seen any improvements implemented. (In transparency, this means I need people not like me. I have great ideas, but I’m not an implementer. Big picture people need to complement themselves with detail people.)

How does your church evaluate Easter services?

My Top 7 Goals to Accomplish on Easter Sunday/Weekend

Easter.

It’s a time of year when churches have an opportunity shared only with Christmas in attracting visitors. Hopefully all of God’s churches will be packed Easter Sunday. That’s my prayer.

We’ve had months of praying, planning and preparing. We’ve done all we can do, but God is ultimately in charge of all that happens in our church – and yours.

I’m often asked, however, what I hope to accomplish on Easter Sunday – such an important day in the life of any church. It could seem overwhelming if we try to accomplish too much in one day, so what do I, as a pastor, have at the top of my list of goals for Easter Sunday. This year we’ve even added a Saturday night service, so it will be a weekend experience.

I shared a guest post with Lifeway’s pastor blog about 7 ways a church can prepare for Easter. In this post, I want to share what I actually hope we accomplish on Easter weekend. Only 7 things. If we accomplish nothing else, and there are probably many other things we will accomplish Easter weekend, I hope Immanuel Baptist does these 7 well.

Gospel is shared

After we’ve made all the preparations, it would be like inviting people to a turkey dinner with no turkey if we don’t share the Gospel. Once we’ve worked hard to gather people into a room, we must not neglect to share the simple truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose again and by Him and through Him alone we can be saved. We must give people an opportunity to hear the Gospel – if for the first time or one of many other times. The Gospel is Good News for all people. All times. After all, that’s what we are celebrating Easter.

People feel welcome

I hope everyone who enters the doors of our church feels welcome. Regardless of what they are wearing, what side of town they came from, what they do for a living, their education status, whichever “side of the tracks” from which they arrived – let them feel the genuine love and kindness of God’s people. There will be those who don’t feel “worthy” to be in a church Easter (because they don’t yet understand than none of us are apart from grace). What better day to “love one another” than Easter Sunday!

Next is highlighted

I want people to leave knowing where the church is going next. For example, we will continue our series on an overview of the Bible after Easter. Then we will be in a relationship series next. People need to know that – in hopes they’ll want to return.

The church is presented well

This is the weekend, even more than others perhaps, where I hope our people are willing to sacrifice for visitors. I hope our leaders are the ones willing to move to the center of an aisle first, to make room on the ends of a row for visitors. I hope Immanuel people help visitors in the parking lot, even if they’ve never before worked in the parking lot. I hope people who seem to be looking for the bathrooms don’t have to look long before someone helps them. I hope the building is cleaner than ever. (That’s why we have had cleanup days scheduled several Saturdays.)

Just as when visitors come to your home for the first time, this is the time to be ready to receive guests warmly. I also want to answer as many questions as people may have about the church, so we are printing a special bulletin designed to give insight to visitors about who we are, what programs we offer, and easy places where they could quickly become a part of Immanuel.

Our people are encouraged

I hope people who call Immanuel their home church – even if they’ve been there over 70 years (and some have been) or just arrived in the last few weeks (and there are lots of those), will leave encouraged by what they experience Easter Sunday. I hope there will be a God-honoring pride that we did all God would expect us to do to present an atmosphere conducive for people to ultimately hear the Gospel. I hope they’ll be challenged for the days ahead and willing to sacrifice and serve even more, directly as a result of what God allows to happen Easter.

Children are safe and have fun

If parents entrust their children to our care they should be assured their children are safe and well-protected. In addition, I hope children leave telling their parents how much they enjoyed being at Immanuel this weekend. Children have a raw honesty about them. They don’t always know the words to say, but parents know whether or not this is a place their kids will be welcomed. Children are often a huge door to the families eventual active involvement in a church. And, this shouldn’t mean children don’t learn. Obviously, they need the Gospel as much as adults, but I believe truth can be shared in an inviting setting.

People leave with hope

Second only from hearing the Gospel, I hope people leave our Easter services with a sense of hope. Actually, that’s my goal every Sunday. The world can be a scary place. There will be lots of brokenness among us at Easter. As followers of Christ, we believe we hold the answer to hope for the world. It’s in the Resurrected Savior – whom we are celebrating – the King of kings and Lord of lords. I hope people don’t leave more confused or feeling guilty about their life, but rather they live knowing their is A Way, there is an answer – there is HOPE – in Jesus Christ!

Easter is coming. I’m praying for my pastor friends, for the church of Christ, and for those who will enter our gathering places this weekend, joining the Church in Easter worship.

7 Statements Every Leader Needs To Use Regularly 

One of the goals of a leader should be to encourage, strengthen and challenge a team to continually improve. Almost as a cheerleader rousing the crowd at a game, the leader uses his or her influence to bring out the best in others.

Much of this is done by the things we say as leaders. The vocabulary of a leader helps shape the culture and atmosphere of the team. The statements we make as leaders carry great weight with the people we are leading.

I even think we should intentionally include certain statements regularly in our language.

Here are 7 statements leaders should memorize and use often:

I believe in you.

Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. That’s not helpful. But, hopefully as a leader you are surrounding yourself with people in whom you do believe. Tell them. Everyone needs to know this, but in my experience, this is even more important the newer the person is on the team.

You are an asset to this team.

Let them know they make a difference. One of the best ways to do this is by bragging on people when they do something well in front of the rest of the team. Even the most introverted person enjoys this kind of recognition.

I’ve got your back.

If you are an empowering leader – and you should be – then people are stepping out on their own, taking risks for the benefit of the organization. They need to know you support them – even when mistakes are made.

You did a great job.

If they did tell them. Never miss an opportunity to give post-project encouragement. Celebrating wins encourages the team and more wins.

I want to help you reach your personal goals.

This could even mean the person would no longer be on your team if they did, but it protects their loyalty while they are and this type environment welcomes the highest caliber of leaders. They are willing to work with you because they know you won’t attempt to hold them back from their own goals – in fact, you will encourage them.

I respect you for _______.

Be specific. What is it that impresses you about this team member? What do they uniquely add to the team? Tell them. The power of this one is exponential.

I trust you.

This one requires more than words. You’ll have to prove it with your actions. But, when a team member feels trusted by the leader they are more willing to take risks. They will have more loyalty to the leader — trusting the leader in return. They will be more likely to overlook the days you aren’t leading quite as well.

You may not be able to use these phrases every day. You shouldn’t overuse them. They need to be genuine, heartfelt and honest. These aren’t even intended to be used every week. But, as often as you can, slip a few of these into your memory bank and pull them out where appropriate. They will help you build a better team.

Any phrases you would add?

7 Seemingly Unproductive Actions Which Are Valuable in Leadership

Much of what a leader does can seem unproductive at times – and that is a good thing.

For someone wired for production and progress – a checklist type person – unproductive time may even seem like wasted time.

I’ll admit, even though this is in my leadership knowledge, I have to discipline myself to practice them sometimes.

Yet, every good leader I know specializes in intangible actions which don’t always produce visible, immediate results. In fact, some of these actions are often the most productive part of their work.

In order for teams to thrive, there are things which, while they may seem unproductive to some, the leader must spend time doing.

Let me share some examples from my own leadership.

Here are 7 intangible things I try to do each day:

Praying.

Did I need to share that one? And, yet I do. For my reminder and most leaders I know. Yes, even pastors need this reminder. We can get so busy making decisions, putting out fires and handling routines we fail to do the more important work – pray. What could be happening in our leadership if we spent more time praying for the work before we do the work? (That’s a sobering question.)

Disciplined thinking.

Leader, how much time do you spend just thinking? I’m not talking about daydreaming on mindless things. I’m talking about disciplined thinking about where you and your team are, where you are going, what’s working, and what’s not working. I need those times every single day. Often new ideas hit me in the shower or driving in my car, but many times new ideas are only shaped and realized when I set aside quantity time to brainstorm. Every leader at every level needs this time, but the higher a position is in the organization the more disciplined the leader must be to think.

Reading.

I don’t know why – even as I teach these principles – it has always made me feel uncomfortable when someone who works with me finds me reading a magazine or a book. I feel so unproductive. But I know the more responsibility a leader assumes the more important it is he or she be exposed to new ideas and thoughts. Leaders are readers. I don’t always get something I can immediately put into practice, but my mind is stretched and my thoughts are energized. Valuable. Gold in many cases. (I read the Bible everyday, but as a practice, I try to read one chapter a day from some book – other than the Bible.)

Investing.

Helping others succeed is what leaders do best. Sometimes leadership is as simple as believing in others more than they believe in themselves. I have to remember also, I’m into Kingdom-building, not only church building, so investing in other pastors – even those not on our team – is a part of what I have been called to do. And, it should be noted, investing is not just talking. Leaders, in my opinion, do too much of that at times. It’s also listening to others and learning from them. Whenever I meet to “invest” in some other leader I always grow personally as well.

Networking.

Some of the greatest doors of opportunity as a church have opened because of my personal networking. Honestly, this is one thing which has made Twitter valuable in leadership. It gives me quick connections with my peers. But, this is why community involvement is important to me. I build a vital network I can glean and learn from. A leader’s overall success is often directly related to the strength and size of their network.

Walking.

Several times daily, if I’m in the office, I walk through our building. I see people. They have a chance to ask me questions, interact with me, and even share a concern. It’s amazing how this action – which many times may not produce anything tangible immediately – seems to endure people to my leadership. Leaders need to be present. Visible. Even accessible to the point they can be. As an added value, the physical movement refuels my body and mind for continued productivity throughout the day.

Planning.

I saved this one for last and I almost said meeting, but meetings are very tangible actions. But, let’s be honest, meetings can also seem unproductive. I read the books and blogs about eliminating meetings – and I’m all about it when possible – but the fact is most teams have to meet occasionally and regularly to stay on pace together. The problem in my opinion isn’t the meeting as much as the meetings where nothing is accomplished. Planning may seem unproductive – even wasted – for those who are most wired for production. Many would rather do than plan to do. But, preparation, while it may seem unnecessary in the process, makes success more attainable. Some of the best leaders I know personally are military leaders. Ask them how much preparation and planning they want their teams to have before encountering the enemy. As an example of this one, rather than getting started answering emails or heading into meetings, I try to spend a few minutes every day, before the day begins, planning how I will approach the day. (This is where I build my checklist.) I leave feeling far more productive when I’ve attempted to plan my day. Interruptions will naturally come, but I’m more prepared for them when I start with a plan.

Depending on your wiring, some of these may seem unproductive. That’s especially true for me when I do take the walk or put down the book and dozens of unanswered emails staring me in the face, but successful leadership demands we spend time investing in the intangible things which make our teams better.

In which of these areas do you most need to improve as a leader?

5 “Secrets” Which Can Make You A Better Leader

When I became a leader, I had no clue what I was doing. I was a high school student and had just been elected student body president. I had served as class president and in a few other positions, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of responsibility which stretched me at that point. As president of the study body, the a senior, I quickly realized lots of students and teachers were looking to me for leadership.

What in the world does a senior in high school have to add to the field of leadership?

We were in the second year of a new school and most of the students were forced to leave their previous school to attend this one. Some went willingly, but many were reluctantly bused to a school absent of many of their friends. In my first year at the school, as a junior, I was one of the reluctant students. In my new position, I knew firsthand the need, as well as the challenge, to encourage the morale and build momentum in this new school.

(Recognizing a need is one key to being an effective leader – but I still had no clue how to accomplish this.)

Thankfully I had a seasoned leader for a principal. Mr. Huggins was a retired Army colonel who loved seeing students succeed. He became my mentor and my biggest supporter as a new leader.

(Every new leader needs someone who believes in them, mentors them, and helps them get back up when they fall.)

Through his leadership of me, I learned a few “secrets”, which helped me as student body president. I carried them with me as I entered the business world and later as I led my own businesses. I used them in an elected office.

Even today in ministry, these same “secrets” have made me a better leader. I’ve gotten lots of practice with them and they are more comfortable to me now, but they still are pillars of my understanding of what good and effective leadership looks like.

(Good leaders learn good principles and build upon them, contextualizing them for each leadership position.)

The principles started with the investment of my principal in me.

Here are 5 secrets to make you a better leader:

Letting go of power

The more you learn to delegate the better your leadership will appear to others. When you let go and let others lead, it will actually look like you’re doing more, because your team will be expanding the vision far beyond your individual capacity. Good leadership involves empowering people to carry out the vision. (You may want to read THIS POST as a test to see if you’re an empowering leader.)

Giving up control

You can’t control every outcome. Have you learned this secret yet? Some things are going to happen beyond your ability to guide them. Leaders who attempt to control stifle their team’s creativity, frustrate others on the team and limit the growth and future success of the organization. (You may want to read THIS POST about controlling leaders.)

Not always knowing the answer

If you don’t have all the answers, people will be more willing to help you find the answers. Equally true, if you try to bluff your way through leadership, pretending you don’t need input from others, your ignorance will quickly be discovered. You’ll be dismissed as a respected leader and will essentially close yourself off from gaining wisdom from others. The best leaders I know are always learning something new – many times from the people they lead.

“Wasting time” is not always wasted

Great leaders have learned spending time which other leaders may feel is unproductive usually ends up being among the most productive use of their time. (I wrote a post about this principle HERE.) Great teams laugh together, share personal life with one another, and build relationships beyond the work environment. Spend time with people, in ways which may or may not produce immediate results, and over time, you’ll find your team to be more satisfied and more productive in their work.

Bouncing attention

The more you deflect attention from yourself to others the more people will respect you. People follow confidence in a leader far more passionately than they follow arrogance. You can be confident without demanding all the attention or without receiving credit for every success of the team. Great leaders know that without the input and investment of others they would never accomplish their goals. They remain appreciative of others and consistently share the spotlight. (You may want to read the attributes of a humble leader in THIS POST.)

Those are some of my secrets in leadership. Thanks Principal Huggins! And, life, thank you for continually showing me these are true.

What secrets have you learned which make one a better leader?

What To Do When You Don’t Have Words to Say

Helping People Grieve...

I have done a few too many funerals for children when the parents are still living. Every funeral is difficult, but these are some of the hardest.

One teenager comes to mind. I went to school with his mother and his father is a dear, personal friend. He was supposed to start college the following week, but tragically died in a car accident. He was a well-loved, funny, popular boy and the funeral home was packed with people paying their respects. As you can imagine, there were hundreds of students wrestling to understand why this happened to their friend. The receiving line for the family lasted for numerous hours over a couple of days.

I remember a number of people asking me the same question as they proceeded through the line: “What should I say to the family?”

What can you say to grieving parents, family members and friends at a time like this?

In times like these, there usually are no words, which can fully bring comfort to devastated people in the initial shock of their loss. They are hurting. They are hurting with a pain whose depths most of us can never imagine.

When there aren’t words to say – say nothing if there’s nothing to say – just be there.

Of course, you’ll speak. So, tell them you’re sorry, but don’t try to make explanations. Don’t try to give them a why. Don’t try to have fancy words of wisdom.

Give them a hug – and hold them until they let go.

Cry with them – and assure them you care.

Pray for them – and do this continually after you leave their presence.

When there aren’t words to say – just be a friend.

I’m reminded of the great sufferer Job. When he had lost literally everything he had – his wealth, his family, his health – and the respect of his wife – his friends came. And, they sat with him for seven days and said nothing. 

Sometimes your presence is the greater gift in times where there are no words.

In fact, when someone you love is hurting, the presence of a friend in those initial days of grief may be more valuable than the words of a counselor, or pastor, or any other professional.

Words will come in days to come – and, then you may need the professionals to help you say the right things, but initially, just be present.

When was the last time you were in a situation where there was simply nothing to say? 

Sometimes the Leader Must Address the Elephant in the Room

As awkward as it might be...

Years ago I was serving on a team where there was a consistent idea killer. Whenever anyone on the team presented an idea, regardless of the idea’s merit, this person would shoot it down. He always saw the glass as half empty and was negative about everything.

It’s okay to have someone who asks questions to make things better. We actually should encourage these people, but this guy was a doomsayer in the room. He never saw any positive in anything – regardless of the conversation. We would be brainstorming and he would kill the momentum. Just when everyone thought we had a good plan in place, he would poke more holes in it. He never had new ideas to improve things. He simply didn’t like anyone else’s idea. It wasn’t helpful. It was actually disruptive.

As anoying as it was, leadership allowed it to continue. Everyone talked about it outside of meetings, no one respected the idea killer, and even the leader admitted it was a problem for the team. Our senior leader insisted he had counseled with this person privately, yet it never seemed to improve.

It led me to a conclusion I have selectively practiced in leadership:

Sometimes, as a leader, you have to address the “elephant in the room” – in the room.

Everyone knows it’s there.

You can’t miss an elephant.

It keeps being repeated.

You’ve handled it individually.

Nothing has changed.

It may even be getting worse.

At some point, the leader has to address the elephant in the room.

You can’t ignore the elephant. Elephants take up a lot of valuable space in the room.

While everyone is in the room, address the elephant.

You may have to call out the person causing the disruption in the presence of everyone else in the room.

Yes, it’s hard, uncomfortable, and you don’t want to do it often – and never until you have attempted to handle it privately, but it may be necessary to continue leading the team well.

If you don’t:

  • Everyone will assume this type performance is tolerated.
  • The negative actions will be copied by others.
  • Team dynamics will never be healthy.
  • Respect for the leader – with this issue and others – will diminish.

Leader, when you know in your gut it’s time – address the elephant!

You must. The best excuses won’t hide an elephant. And, elephants don’t often leave the room on their own.

Have you ever served on a team where the elephant wasn’t addressed and it negatively impacted the team?