From time to time I receive suggestions from my business friends on good books about leadership.  Last year I read leadership expert, Marcus Buckingham’s bestselling book, The One Thing You Need To Know.  I was so intrigued that I ordered a Buckingham CD entitled, Just One Thing: Unlocking the Key to Great Management and Leadership.  In our vocation as pastors, we function as both managers and leaders.  This week I’d like to share some of Buckingham’s ideas about great managers.  Next week’s subject will be great leaders. 

As local church pastors, we manage the paid staff as well as the lay leadership of the church.  According to Buckingham, the chief responsibility of a manager is to be the catalyst to turn a person’s talents into performance.  As managers of the work of others, we need to set high standards ourselves and show them what excellence looks like.  Then we need to encourage, challenge and stretch those we supervise to use their talents to achieve a high level of performance.

The one thing we need to know about being an effective manager is finding what is unique about each person we supervise and then capitalizing on it.  Most managers try to get people to work on their weaknesses and simply maintain their strengths.  They focus on what isn’t working and try to fix it.  Great managers, however, help people to grow and build on their strengths while managing around their weaknesses.  The truth is that each one of us has limited time in our careers and will learn the most in the areas where we already have some mastery.  We will get the best return on our investment when we focus on strengths.

Marcus Buckingham claims that great management is not about transformation but release.  As managers, you and I are called to release the talents that are already there.

We help people become more and more of who they already are.  We arrange our ministry team, then, so that each person’s best contributions can be used.  Great managers hold in their minds the difference in people.  They know their people so well that they can identify the right person for a particular job.

The best skills of managers are a natural coaching instinct and individualization.   Managers need to enjoy being responsible for other people’s work and helping others to grow and succeed.  Managers also need to see each person as unique, realizing that supervision is different for each employee.   Average managers generalize.  Great managers individualize.  I was interested to read some of Gerald Ford’s words about his fellow presidents.  About one president Ford said, “He was a poor manager, and you can’t be president and do a good job unless you manage.”  

Buckingham’s views of great management have direct connections with our role as pastors.  When hiring staff, we seek to find passionate, talented people whose strengths fit in with the mission and goals of the church.  In the words of Jim Collins, author of Good to Great (HarperBusiness, 2001), we need to get the right people on the bus.  Then, as staff members grow and mature, we can rearrange the seats on the bus by tailoring job descriptions to best use their evolving gifts.

The same principle applies to our work with the Committee on Lay Leadership.  The commitment of church members to Christ and the church stirs in them a desire to serve.  However, they also want to volunteer in ways that are fulfilling and use their talents.  We are responsible, through prayer, discernment and teamwork, to unlock the gifts of others in ways that further the mission of the church to make disciples for the transformation of the world.  The task of the Committee on Lay Leadership is not to fill slots but to offer opportunities to help others discover their gifts and become their best selves.   If we put people in the wrong position, they may eventually burn out or drop out.

Years ago, I was asked to be on a conference committee.  Two years later, I somehow ended up as the chair.  Wanting to be helpful, I worked hard to develop leadership and provide quality programming.  However, after several years as the chair, I admitted to myself that I had little passion for this particular committee.  My heart simply wasn’t in it, so I asked to go off the committee.  A year later I was asked to be a member of the Board of Ordained Ministry, which was a perfect fit for my interests and gifts.

I firmly believe that all of the gifts that we need to be effective in ministry are in each congregation we serve.  Unleashing the power of that ministry is not only the work of the Holy Spirit but is the result of good management.  When we can see the uniqueness of each person in our congregation and believe so much in the talents of our staff members and lay leaders that we put their success before ours, great ministry will happen, and God will be glorified.  Look at the stories of Jesus calling the disciples and teaching the crowds, and you will see evidence of a great manager at work!

            “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs.”

Blessings, Laurie

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