Possibly the two toughest places for leaders are sports and the military. In coaching, a losing record usually means the end of your tenure with a particular team. Too many losing records and your career as a head coach is over. The football coach at UCLA found this out recently. Not enough wins, and especially not enough wins against rival USC, so he’s out. Likewise, in the military, a wrong battlefield decision and you’re pulled pretty quickly. Great coaches and generals become great because
they win. They have a track record, and they do it consistently.
But what about Christian leaders? What about pastors, ministry leaders, or CEO’s of faith-based organizations? Christians are driven by love and forgiveness, so generally we give Christian leaders a lot of rope. Frankly, there are some pretty incompetent leaders out there in the Christian world, but I don’t see most leaving anytime soon. And yet the New Testament is pretty hard on leaders in the church. When it comes to pastors, Paul is pretty clear with Timothy that personal integrity matters, and leaders must be above reproach. And when it comes to results, I’m particularly fascinated by the argument that longtime partners Paul and Barnabas got into over hiring Mark. Barnabas wanted to bring Mark (not the gospel writer) along on their next trip, but Paul remembered how he abandoned them earlier. Paul wasn’t hesitant to remind his friend Barnabas that Mark was a quitter, and he had no intention of partnering with someone like that.
The argument was serious enough that Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Barnabas took Mark and went in one direction, and then Paul hooked up with Silas and went in another. The really interesting thing to note is that after that decision, Paul went on to do great exploits, and write a significant part of the New Testament. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think we ever hear from Barnabas again.
Apparently, having the right leader for the job matters, and Paul wasn’t afraid to draw a line in the sand and reject an unfit candidate.
So today – outside of obvious financial or personal misconduct – how hard should we be when it comes to performance, mission, and results? What if the leader is a good man or woman, committed to the vision, and works hard, but just isn’t successful at achieving the mission he or she is called to accomplish? When it comes to stewardship of the thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars that donors give to accomplish a project or mission, how tough should we be when it comes to reaching the goal?
Here’s my thoughts:
1) One of our biggest mistakes is not to agree on expectations when we hire the leader. It’s unfair to surprise him two years into the job with expected results he or she didn’t know about. Be clear up front, and explain exactly what you expect them to accomplish.
2) Track it. It’s easier in business where you can chart your financial and sales progress. But there are ways to track mission success as well. In the old days, Billy Graham and Oral Roberts had new converts fill out small cards, and the ministry kept detailed records on conversions. How many did you feed at the homeless shelter last year? How has your donor development improved? Have you expanded the markets for your television or radio program? What isn’t measured can’t be improved. Track it.
3) Surround the leader with motivators. Sadly, many ministry boards simply exist to rubber stamp whatever the pastor or leader wants. But in a great organization, the board is filled with other leaders – sometimes older and more experienced – who motivate, inspire, and push the leader to new levels. A board is there for a purpose, and one of the best roles is to be a burr under the saddle. Don’t let the leader become complacent. Stretch his or her boundaries.
4) Track the finances and don’t be afraid to act. One of the most significant marks against Richard Roberts as president of Oral Roberts University was accumulating more than $50 million in debt during his watch. How did that happen? Where was the board? Now, businessman Mart Green has stepped up to the plate with a potential $70 million gift, but how much more effective would that gift be had it not had to pay off debt? Watch the books. It doesn’t matter if the leader is the nicest guy on the planet. When you get that far down the debt road, something has to change.
5) Pull the plug in a supportive and gracious way. Whether it’s a regular employee or the boss, never fire them without helping them understand the reasons, and helping them land on their feet. There’s a place for love here, and sometimes, removing them from leadership is the best gift you could possibly give. Do it with respect, and don’t burn bridges.
6) Act. Don’t keep putting it off, believing for the best, or hoping things will change. The leader of your organization is the steward of a great deal of donor money, outreach, and goodwill, and your mission is important. Don’t go down in history as one of the people in your organization that allowed a leader to crash the plane and destroy a great vision.