I’ve been a leader in an almost 200 year old company and a new business. I’ve led in a church plant and now in an over 100 years old established church. One thing I’ve learned is that there are many similarities in organizational structure — especially when it comes to the need for changing that structure.
Healthy organizations maintain an unchanging vision long-term by being willing to change their organizational structure as needed.
When it comes to organizational structure not everything needs changing. If the structure works. Keep it. It’s comfortable. People understand it. Progress is happening.
But progress is happening is key.
There are times to change. It’s important that leaders realize those times.
How do you know when organizational structural change is needed?
Here are 7 considerations to discern it is time:
When you continually encounter obstacles trying to move forward. If every decision you are trying to make hits roadblocks or dead ends, it may be time to build a new road.
When the steps to make the change is more exhausting than the value the change provides. Change should be exhilarating once you get to it. Change brings momentum. When the process to get there is so long or difficult that it wears you out and you’ve got no excitement left — it may be time for some structure change.
When you can no longer attract leaders. When people are controlled more than empowered you will attract doers but you won’t attract visionary leaders. Creative leadership will die, because genuine leaders rebel against controlling environments.
When you spend more time discussing than doing. Granted we need to meet about some things. We need to plan, strategize and organize. I suggest we have better meetings, but more than that we need action. Our visions are hungry for progress towards them. Meetings should create action. The best structures help you get busy doing not attending yet another meeting.
When the structure you have now isn’t sustainable long term. Structure based upon people, for example, rather than progress, will eventually need changing as people change. Ask yourself will this structure work 10 years from now? If not, the time to change is now.
When all creativity is structured out of the system. Sometimes the process can become so clearly defined that nothing new is needed. There is no room for different ideas or opinions. No one needs them anymore. Every question is answered. When people fall into routines, they get bored, and complacency becomes the norm. Development stops. Time for some structural change.
When there is no longer any confusion. If everything is so carefully scripted you may need some organizational structure change. Some of the best discoveries are found amidst chaos. I love what Andy Stanley says about “a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved”. Good organizations have some of those.
Those are some of my thoughts based on experience. What would you add to my list?
I prefer to be a macro-manager. I like to lead leaders. That means I try to cast the vision for a team and get out of the way, releasing each team member to do his or her work in their own individual way.
There are times, however, where more micro-management may be needed by senior leadership. More coaching, encouraging or correction may be needed for a season.
Here are 5 times to consider some micromanagement:
When a team member is new to the organization. They need to learn your culture and way of doing things. They don’t know. This doesn’t mean you don’t allow them to invent, dream and discover, but they also need to know how decisions are made, the unwritten rules, and the internal workings of the environment. It will serve everyone well and they’ll last longer on the team if these are learned early in their tenure.
When a team or team leader has been severely crippled by injury or stress. I’ve had a few times where a member of our team just wasn’t mentally or emotionally capable of making the right decisions. It could be what they were dealing with in their personal life or with the stress of their work, but I had to step in and help them more than I normally would for a season to help them succeed.
When in a state of uncertainty, transition or change. I once had a strong leader quit abruptly from his position. His team was devastated. I quickly realized they had relied too much on his leadership and were now lost without him. It required more of my time initially until we could raise up new leadership and better empower everyone on the team.
When tackling a new objective, critical to the organization. This is especially true when, as the senior leader, I’m the architect of the idea. They need more of my time to make sure things are going the way I envisioned them to go. That doesn’t mean the outcome will look exactly like I planned, but in the initial start, the team can waste time and resources trying to figure me out without my input, rather than doing productive work.
When a team member is underperforming in relation to others. As a leader, I feel it is part of my role to help people perform at their highest level possible. Sometimes that requires coaching, sometimes instruction, and sometimes even discipline. Part of being a leader is recognizing potential in people and helping them realize that potential within the organization. For a season, to help someone get on track for success on our team, (or even to discover they aren’t a fit for our team) I have to manage closer than I normally prefer.
I obviously wrote this in the context of an organization and not specific to the church, but these principles equally apply in the church. The important thing is that the end goals and objectives need to be reached, so at certain critical times a leader must step in and ensure the vision is being accomplished.
Are there other times you revert to micromanagement?
Do you want to be a better blogger?
I have some advice.
Just a warning, you won’t hear this advice everywhere. In fact, it runs contrary to most of the better blogging advice out there — perhaps even some I’ve probably offered people in the past.
But, I believe it’s true. Especially for the beginning blogger.
Do you want to be a better blogger?
Write poorly — but do it often.
Yes, that’s what I said.
I think one key to being a better blogger is to write more bad posts.
Okay, Ron, you’ve lost me.
Let me explain with an illustration.
People ask me all the time how I became a runner. I run an average of 5-6 miles a day. I ran a marathon a few years ago. I’ve run dozens of half marathons. I’m planning to run another full marathon this fall.
My discipline is not to run. I’d do it everyday.
But, I once hated running. Despised it. I had been a runner earlier in life, but thought I outgrew it as I got older. I even announced from behind a pulpit one day that I’d never run again — unless I was being chased by an angry deacon.
Then one day I decided to give it another try. I don’t know why. I just did.
Someone gave me advice — I’m not sure who now — but it was brilliant. They suggested I set a time limit for running and always finish that goal. It could be 20 or 30 minutes. If I couldn’t run that long at the time, the advice was to finish the time, running when I could and walking the rest.
I’d run for 3 minutes and walk for a while. Then I’d run 5 minutes — then walk some more. I kept this up but always tried to complete my allotted time. Eventually, over the weeks, I found myself filling the entire time running. And soon learning to love every minute.
That’s my running story. How I became a runner.
And now you’re wondering…
How does my running story fit into encouragement about blogging?
Write poorly — but do it often.
Just write blog posts.
Please don’t misunderstand. “Poorly” is probably a poor word choice. It exaggerates my point, but I’m not saying write junk. Give it your best effort. If you’re not any good at writing period, maybe blogging isn’t you’re thing. But if you have a few minimal skills, this might work to make you better over time. You just need to write — the best you can — more often.
Set a goal of how many you want to write per week and do it. Write to fill your goal. If your goal is 3 posts a week — write three posts a week. If it’s 7 — write 7. (That’s probably too many, but it’s your goal.)
Finish your goal. Every week.
You won’t always write the best posts. (You’ll walk more than you run sometimes.) You’ll need to improve. A few years from now you’ll look back at some of your older posts and see how much better they could have been. But, you’ll get better the more you write. Practice makes perfect (or near perfect) as they say.
The problem for many runners is they expect to run the 6 milers as soon as they got off the couch. It takes time. Discipline. Consistent effort. Sometimes walking more than you run. Getting better as you go.
It’s the same with blogging.
I recently returned from a beach destination wedding. Someone has to do those you know. Cheryl and I tacked on a few days of vacation since we were at the beach. It was refreshing.
As I was finishing my last vacation run — vacation runs are the best — a friend texted me. He’s a great leader and we’ve talked often about leadership issues — and the stress of leadership. When he learned I was heading home from vacation, he asked me a powerful question. I’m not even sure he knew how powerful, but knowing him, he was probably asking with intentionality.
He asked, “Excited to be going back or dreading it?”
My friend wanted to know — and encourage me to think — if my vacation had been successful. He knows the purpose of vacation.
What is the purpose of vacation? Another way I might ask this question: What are the goals of a vacation?
Here are my thoughts.
5 goals of vacation for the leader:
Rest – God has actually given us a Biblical command to rest — to Sabbath — as if He knows something about what we need. (Duh!) You may not “rest” like everyone else, but everyone should rest. This particular friend who texted me was also returning from vacation. He does something that I think shows he understands his need for rest. He leaves his work cell phone with his administrative assistant when he goes on vacation. How cool is that? I know because I texted him while he was gone and she texted me back. Intentional. Love it. Rest should be a huge goal of taking a vacation. We all need it.
Reconnect – Vacation should allow us time to restore relationships to maximum health. With God. With family. With ourself. The busyness of life can strain relationships. Vacation gives you the opportunity to pause and get back to optimum health with the most important relationships in our life. On vacation, I talk to God more. I spend deeper quality time with Cheryl. We date more intensely — ask each other more questions. In years past, I got to spend more time with my boys on vacation. (I’m an empty nester now.) But, vacation helps me reconnect to those I love the most.
Play – We all need to play — regardless of our age. We fuel all the rest of these with this one. As I said already, I run more on vacation. That’s my form of play. But, when I run, I’m better equipped for all the other goals. You may not be a runner, but you have things you enjoy doing that aren’t work. (I tweeted from vacation that a friend of mine got a Lego set for Father’s Day. Cool playing to come for that dad!) Playing enhances my mental energies, my creativity, and my enjoyment of life. Making time to play — with whatever you enjoy doing — is a great goal for vacations.
Dream – What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to doing in the future? One of Cheryl and my greatest enjoyments on vacation is dreaming about where we see ourselves in a year, 5 years, 10 years, into retirement. We also dream where we could see our boys and their families. We dream about careers, personal interests, places we’d love to travel. Dreaming stretches our mind and heart towards each other and energizes us about our future together. A great vacation goal is to take time to dream.
Rejuvenate – Vacation should help you reengage with your work when you return. That’s the understanding my friend had about vacation. And, it is a huge goal. This will be hard to say to some, and some may disagree, but if you leave vacation dreading going back to work, it maybe you don’t know how to do vacation or you’re in the wrong job. It’s work. I get that. We all have Mondays we dread. The day back doesn’t have to be the most fun day at work ever, but a goal of vacation is to help us recover so we can gather more energies to do the work we were designed to do.
Does that describe your vacation?
What goals do you have for vacation?
As a leader, there have been numerous times when I have been in over my head with the challenges and opportunities I was facing. God seems to call me to huge tasks.
I suspect if you’re a leader, you understand. I think He does that to many people! It keeps us humble. And, dependent — on Him!
Regardless of how comfortable a leader may be in his or her position…
- There are times when the leader has no answers…
- He or she has exhausted every bit of knowledge gained…
- The current strategies don’t seem to work anymore…
- The situation is beyond the current plans and systems…
- People are complaining…
- It seems you’re on a treadmill — getting no where…
- Some days you leave thinking you accomplished nothing — maybe even most days…
Ever been there? Did you think someone was talking to me about you?
When the leader doesn’t know what to do and/or doesn’t have a clue what to do next, here are some suggestions:
Admit – The first step is to be honest with where you are currently as a leader. Pretending to know the answers when you don’t know them will not solve the problem. Most of the time, the people you are leading already know your inadequacies. Come clean. You’re overwhelmed. No shame. All of us have been there at times.
Pause - It’s okay to take a break to clear your head. It could be an afternoon, a day, or a week, but sometimes you just need to get away from the situation long enough to gain a fresh perspective. I often disappear from the office Thursday afternoons on especially difficult weeks. I may take a long run, mow my grass, pray or read. The busier the season — the more overwhelmed I feel — the more I need to pause. I know it sounds counter-productive. It’s not. At all. It’s life-giving.
Seek help – Find a mentor who has walked where you are currently walking. I have several older men I call when I’m maxed out with stress. There is a benefit in surrounding yourself with people smarter than you about a matter. This is the time for the believer to rely more than ever on his or her faith; trusting that the God who called them to the task will be faithful to complete it. (1 Thess 5:24)
Learn – Leaders should always be teachable. Again, assuming or pretending to have all the answers only slows or curtails projects and is quickly be discovered by others. Stretch yourself and learn something new. Read. Definitely be reading. Attend a conference. Listen to some TED talks or sermons from pastors you admire. Feed your mind. It needs some new energies.
Improve – Make better checklists each day. Spend more time planning. Learn to better delegate. I always say, you have to get better before you can get bigger. As you learn improvements needed, be willing to change. The tighter you hold onto methods that aren’t working the longer you’ll delay moving forward. Push through the overwhelming period and become a stronger, more capable and better leader. You can do it!
Do you need help? Are you overwhelmed? Start the process towards getting better.
I’m pulling for you — and I’ll trade you a prayer!
I’ve never been a proponent of the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Sometimes you need a change and nothing is “broke”. It just isn’t as good as it could be, it’s keeping other things from being better, or it’s soon going to be broke unless you change.
But, there are times not to change — certainly when you are not ready to change.
Here are 7 times not to change:
When there isn’t a compelling purpose - There should always be a why. It might be as simple as if you don’t change you’re going to be bored out of your mind — but have a reason before you change.
When there are no good leaders behind it – You need people who buy into the change. If a change has value you can usually find supporters. They may be few. They may do nothing more than speak up for the change, but if no one can get excited about the change, you probably need to raise up some supporters before moving forward. (There are rare exceptions to this one, but again, they are rare.)
When you haven’t defined a win – Changing before you know what success looks like will keep you running in a lot of ineffective directions without much progress.
When the loss is more expensive than the win – Sometimes the cost just isn’t worth it. You can’t justify the people and resource expense for the potential return.
When the leader isn’t motivated – There are times to wait if senior leadership can’t get excited or at least support the change if push back develops. Eventually, without their support, you’ll be less likely to experience sustaining, successful change.
When too many other things are changing – Any organization or group of people can only handle so much change at a time. This requires great discernment on the part of leaders to know when there is too much change occurring and it is best to wait for something new.
When an organization is in crisis mode – When a ship is sinking, fix the leak or bail some water, before you choose your next destination. When things are in crisis, is not the time to make a ton of changes. There may be needed changes to get things moving again, but catch your breath first, make sure a core of people is solid behind the vision, and take careful steps to plan intentional, helpful and needed change.
This isn’t intended as a checklist. I would never want to stop someone from making needed changes. I love change. But, I do want to encourage better change. I hope this helps.
If you want to be in leadership get comfortable with change. It’s part of the experience of every leader. The best leaders get accustomed to leading change.
Every leader deals with change, but in my experience, some handle it better than others. There are change agent leaders who seem to have an innate gifting at leading through change. I love to learn from these special leaders.
I’ve observed some common characteristics change agent leaders share.
Here are 7 qualities of good change agents:
Flexible – It doesn’t have to be their design. They simply want progress towards the overall vision. These change agents are never stubborn on matters that seem to have no vision-altering value. They navigate towards a solution, letting others have “their” way. Everyone walks away feeling as though they have won.
Courageous – Change agent leaders are willing to receive criticism and still move forward. They know how to filter through what is valid criticism — worth hearing — and what’s simply a venting of personal interest. They unwaveringly push through the junk that clouds progress.
Relational – Good change agent leaders value the opinions of other people and work hard to gain trust. They know that ultimate change can’t happen without human capital and they are constantly investing in relationships. Networking is one of a change agents greatest tools.
Strategic – A change agent leader realizes there are steps to take and they carefully choose the timing of when to take them. They almost have a keen sense of discernment when it comes to knowing when to pull the trigger, when to wait, and when to pull the plug completely.
Creative – Good change agents are able to see paths to success others can’t yet see. I need to be honest here and say that I’d rather be strategic than creative. There are some who can always find a way to make their ideas work, but it comes at the expense of others. But, change happens with creativity. Effective change is one of the best forms of art in the field of leadership. That takes creativity.
Intentional – Change agent leaders make change for a specific purpose. They never waste a change. They know that every change has the potential to make or break a team and they work diligently to bring the best results.
Thorough – A good change agent follows through on commitments made and sees the change to fruition. They don’t give up until the post evaluation is complete and the lessons of change have been learned.
Think about your experience. Who are some of the best change agent leaders you have known?
Every leader needs to balance the tension of “leading for me and leading for the organization.”
I balance it everyday.
Here’s what I mean.
I’m sometimes going to lead for me. My preferences. My tastes. My individual style is going to be reflected in the church. That’s part of leadership.
I’m certain leadership of the people looked different under Moses than under Joshua. (Joshua apparently didn’t have a stick. )
If my leadership is effective at all it will have an impact on the church. At the same time, I have to be very careful as I lead, and with the structures we implement, and the vision I cast, that I’m not being egocentric. We have a bigger vision at stake. Hopefully the church lasts much longer than me.
I know the church is going to resemble me. It is going to reflect my leadership.
But the church doesn’t need to look like me. It should look like Jesus.
Do you see the difference?
This is a tension for every organization. Christian or not. Non-profit or for profit.
Consider Apple. Apple resembles Steve Jobs. It should. He built the company. He’s a mastermind behind it all. But it didn’t need to look like Steve Jobs. It needed to look like Apple. Imagine what would happen now if it had only been built around Steve Jobs. Apple looks like Apple. That’s a good thing if you like Apple products.
I see too many planters and pastors shaping the culture to look like them. It’s dangerous. It’s not sustainable. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s Biblical. When they leave the church will likely struggle with an identity crisis.
Here are some ways I attempt to balance this tension:
- If the decision has long-term implications I include multiple voices.
- I try not to always have an answer to every problem.
- I surround myself with really smart people. And, give them authority to question my judgment.
- I step back often to observe a bigger picture.
- I’m trying to shape paradigms of good leadership more than specifics of structure.
- I try not to micromanage.
- I empower people to make decisions without my stamp of approval.
People want to follow a vision that is bigger than today. They want progress. And, granted, to accomplish that, people want and need a leader. I believe God even allowed things to be set up that way. The tension is to not use that felt need of people as an opportunity to build my own kingdom.
Here’s a very practical example of how that is currently playing out in our church. Our church governing structure needs some tweaking. The current system, with a monthly business meeting on a Wednesday night, where major decisions eventually have to be made, attended overwhelmingly by seniors — who by the way are among the most faithful members of our church — is not sustainable long-term. The younger generation of people are not buying into that system. They don’t care about the business of church as much as the mission of church. In 10 years, unless we make changes, the room will be much smaller and it will be difficult to get anything done effectively with our current structure. That’s not being cruel. It’s being realistic.
In recommending that we need changes, I have suggested a team that is cross representative of the church, made up of laypeople in the church. I’ve offered resources and other church models for them to consider. But, then I’ve tried to get out of the way, as much as possible. I’ve even suggested, should anyone think this is personal to me, that they make changes effective the day I leave office as pastor. (I’m not anticipating they will do this but I’m that serious about not shaping a church to look like me.)
The bottom line in this illustration is that I’m in a church that’s 105 years old. That is over twice my age. I hope this local church body survives long after I’m gone (unless of course Jesus returns.)
That will be easier if I’m not the identity of this church – Jesus is.