What if my leader isn't leading?

November 17th, 2017

A few years ago, while working with the Center for Safe & Supportive Schools at Vanderbilt University, there was a question I frequently received from teachers: “What do I do if my principal isn’t leading?”

Just as this may be the case in a school, it could also be happening in a church. Both are centers of human and organizational development. If a leader isn’t leading, there could be a variety of reasons or some combination of factors. Perhaps the leader is young, new, absent, retiring or authoritarian. A young leader may lack confidence. There is a certain amount of wisdom and stability that only comes with experience. Likewise, a new leader may feel unsure about the dynamics of the church and how to get started. An absent leader, one who continually hides in the office or leaves the building for meetings, may not be best suited for this leadership role. A retiring leader may check out emotionally even before the official day. An authoritarian leader may think fear is the best motivator. All of these scenarios can make it difficult for staff to stay motivated and focused with the church members. So…what can you do if your leader isn’t leading?

Firstly, you need to take care of yourself personally. You cannot do your job of ministering to others if you are neglecting yourself. Consider your physical and emotional health. Are you eating and sleeping well? Are you exercising regularly? If not, think about the changes in your routine that need to be made. How are you feeling emotionally? Name what you are feeling. Whether it is calm, angry, depressed, or resigned, it is important to put a label on what you are feeling so you can deal with it. If you are having difficulty identifying your emotions, perhaps it would be helpful to talk with a friend or journal about your experiences.

Professionally, remember to keep a positive attitude and use encouraging language. Yes, you may share your frustrations with your colleagues. However, say it in a way that reframes instead of blames. For example, if you are serving under a new leader who has not communicated a vision for the church, you may feel like saying “This new leader has no idea what he’s doing.” Instead, you could say, “Our leader is learning. I wonder what we can do to help establish a vision for our church. Perhaps I’ll ask them if they'd like help leading a discussion about our vision and mission statements.” One statement attacks; the other helps.

Keeping a positive attitude and using encouraging language is a way to honor your leader. Whether you agree with everything he says or not, he is the leader. Your job is to help him fulfill his purpose at the school. You can do this by showing up for your church members, both physically and emotionally. Come to work. Be on time. Be present with your colleagues and church members. This is easier said than done when you are working with an undesirable leader. However, that is why you are called a professional. Do your best for the sake of the body of Christ. And, as your mother used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say it at all”. Churches are famous for being gossip mills, but you don’t have to participate. 

Instead, your job is to share the love and truth of Jesus with your church members. Stay focused on Jesus and on the people you serve. Remember why you got into ministry in the first place. You wanted to make a difference. You can do that even if your leader is not ideal. Create opportunities to connect with your church members by hosting meals, doing service projects and celebrating events. You can model strong leadership and healthy communication even if there are problems with church climate. The challenge is not to isolate yourself and those you serve.

You need to stay connected with your colleagues. Chances are that you are not alone in your experience and perception. Take time to hear others’ concerns. Listen well, but set a time limit. You don’t need to get caught in an hour-long negative conversation. Again, be sure that what you say to your colleagues about your leader is reframed positively. As with other church members, create opportunities to connect with your colleagues. Perhaps you can host a potluck lunch or night out after work. Find ways to build camaraderie and bolster spirits.

When faced with a poor leadership situation, you have a choice to make. No, you can’t single-handedly fix the situation. However, you can choose to do what only you can do. You can use your professionalism and positive attitude to influence your church, your peers, and your leaders to move in the right direction. Use your power for good. Make a difference where you are by staying focused on why you do what you do: helping people grow and learn in the knowledge and love of Jesus.

comments powered by Disqus