I have long come to realise that team leadership is norm. Perhaps, when I was younger, I held to the individualistic, heroic, bigger than life model of leadership (and maybe believed I was on the road to being one.) But life, and the Word, have taught me that the norm for leadership is not multi-gifted leaders but multi-gifted leadership teams. Here is an excerpt from a booklet on leadership that I hope to publish soon. It is based on the leadership of Nehemiah.
The reconstruction of Jerusalem needed the rebuilding of the wall. It also needed a fresh recommitment to the Law. For this the people needed Ezra, the priest and scribe (Nehemiah 8). Ezra and Nehemiah were two leaders who played key roles in the reconstruction of post-exilic Israel. Nehemiah was willing to work with other key leaders in the mission to rebuild Israel. Earlier he had worked with the local leaders in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:16-18). Nehemiah understood that a true leader must be committed to team leadership. No one can go it alone.
I was pleased to discover a study that expands on this point. I have just finished teaching a course on leadership at the Biblical Graduate School of Theology. In the course of my readings for the course, I came across Tom Rath & Barry Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership, New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2008. This is what they wrote:
As we worked with . . . leadership teams, we began to see that while each member had his or her own unique strengths, the most cohesive and successful teams possessed broader groupings of strengths. So we went back and initiated our most through review of this research to date. From this dataset, four distinct domains of leadership strength emerged: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking . . .
We found that it serves a team well to have a representation of strengths in each of these four domains, Instead of one dominant leader who tries to do everything or individuals who all have similar strengths, contributions from all four domains lead to a strong and cohesive team. Although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be. (Strengths Based Leadership, 22-23)
This is how Rath and Conchie describe the four “domains” of leadership:
a. Executing: know how to make things happen. When you need someone to implement a solution, these are the people who will work tirelessly to get it done.
b. Influencing: help their team reach a much broader audience. People with strength in this domain are always selling the team’s ideas inside and outside the organization.
c. Relationship Building: the essential glue that holds the team together. Without these strengths on a team, in many cases, the group is simply a composite of individuals.
d. Strategic Thinking: the ones who keep us all focused on what could be. They are constantly absorbing and analysing information and helping the team make better decisions.
(Strengths Based Leadership, 24 – 26)
Rath and Conchie’s work makes sense. Not only is it based on extensive empirical research, it is true to Scripture. Unfortunately I still see many in the church and in the marketplace still thinking along the lines of the single dominant “strong” leader.
I knew a church who had a lead pastor who was strong in preaching and formulating vision (Influencing and Strategic Thinking?) but who had no obvious strengths in management and pastoral care (Executing and Relationship Building?). The people appreciated the strengths he brought to the church but he was constantly criticised for his weaknesses. In the end, an associate was brought into the pastoral team who had strengths in management and pastoral care.
After some time, the first pastor moved on to another ministry, and the associate called in to help him, moved into the position of lead pastor. In a short while, the new lead pastor was heavily criticised for his “weak” preaching and a leadership style that was deemed not strong enough. He kept reminding people that his strengths were in management and pastoral care and that that was why he was brought in. He said the people should be working on adding others to the pastoral team and/or mobilising suitable lay leaders to complement him. But many were not sympathetic.
I have seen the above scenario replayed many times in many churches and ministry organizations. Many leaders in such scenarios feel unappreciated for who they are and are deeply discouraged. Meanwhile, the churches and para-church groups keep waiting for the “perfect,” meaning “multi gifted leader,” who never seems to appear. I am not sure what the situation is like in the marketplace and in civil service. I am guessing that different organizations will function with different levels of appreciation for the need to build “well-rounded teams.”
One application of this approach to leadership is for all of us to have some idea of our strengths and to intentionally find others with complementing strengths, to complete our teams. In the church context, I am not suggesting that we have pastoral teams of at least four full-time pastors who each have one of the different strength domains. But the leadership team of the church, with whatever combination of pastors and lay leaders, must have people contributing in all the four areas.
I took the StrengthsFinder test offered by Rath and Conchie. I thought my primary strengths would be in the area of Influencing. I was surprised to find that I had equal strengths in Influencing and in Strategic Thinking and even a little in Relationship Building. But it will come as no surprise to those who know me that I had nothing in the area of Executing, just one of the many, many reasons I rejoice that I have Bernice as my life partner!