We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.
Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.
The first essential characteristic of a healthy leadership team (and ultimately a healthy church) is vulnerability.
This is what happens when members get to a point where they are completely comfortable being transparent, honest, and naked with one another, where they say and genuinely mean things like “I screwed up,” “I need help,” “Your idea is better than mine,” “I wish I could learn to do that as well as you do,” and even, “I’m sorry.”
Now, that sounds like actual Christianity in action, right? This is how submissive, servant-hearted followers of Christ behave. All else misses the mark. All else calls for repentance.
When everyone on a team knows that everyone else is vulnerable enough to say and mean those things, and that no one is going to hide his or her weaknesses or mistakes, they develop a deep and uncommon sense of trust. They speak more freely and fearlessly with one another and don’t waste time and energy putting on airs or pretending to be someone they’re not. Over time, this creates a bond that exceeds what many people ever experience in their lives and, sometimes, unfortunately, even in their families.
Some elderships enjoy this kind of relationship. A few teams of elders and staff get there.
It’s harder when the staff is included because the elders really do have a responsibility to set the salary of and review the staff. The staff is younger. The staff works in their areas fulltime. Many on staff have never worked in the business world. Elders and staff have to work much harder to get there.
Moreover, in many churches, the elders plus staff is too big of a group to truly bond together in this sense. Or they’re near the upper limit (12, remember) and fail to do the extra work required to push back against the limitations created by the numbers.
Worse yet, when the staff is insecure (reasonably or not), they will often form close ties to each other and refuse to build close ties with the elders, for fear of being hurt or fear of being seen as too close to the “bosses” by their fellow staff members.
You can see how destructive insecurity is in relationship building. It’s just hard for an insecure person to trust others. Then again, it’s also easy to feel insecure when the elders engage in behaviors that threaten their trust.
Lencioni recommends some very practical tips for helping to bridge the gaps among team members.
First, he suggests that each member take the time to tell his personal history. It’s amazing how we can form a team, work together for years, and not know how many children our teammates have.
Just by opening up and telling some basic facts about ourselves, we transform ourselves from a visage to a person.
In addition to making people feel more comfortable being vulnerable, this discussion serves to level the playing field on the team. There is something powerful and disarming about hearing the CEO of a company talk about being bullied because he was a chubby kid or that his family struggled with grave poverty.
He next suggests that the team undertake a Myer-Briggs personality profile and then discuss the results among each other. All types have their strengths and weaknesses, and some team members will need the reinforcement of hearing about their strengths, and it’s good for anyone to honestly admit that he or she admits the weaknesses revealed in the report.
The goal is to get everyone on the team to identify and reveal those tendencies to their peers, both for the practical purpose of having them understand one another and to help them get comfortable being transparent and vulnerable about their shortcomings and limitations. When members of a leadership team willingly acknowledge their weaknesses to one another, they give their peers tacit permission to call them on those weaknesses.
Lencioni then warns us all to avoid the “fundamental attribution error.” When we see someone else mess up, we tend to question their motives. When we encounter a screaming child in a grocery store, we naturally blame the parent’s lack of discipline and rudeness. When our own child acts that way, we blame the kid’s earache.
That entirely natural human tendency needs to be presented to the team and discussed. It may well resolve some serious, lingering issues.
Some people ask me if it’s possible for team members to be too vulnerable with one another, to leave themselves open to being hurt. My answer is no. To believe that a person on a team can be too vulnerable is really to suggest that she would be wise to withhold information about her weaknesses, mistakes, or need for help.