Top Four Mistakes Leaders Make

Dr. Han Finzel, leader to hundreds of Christian workers, has sharply fused together the mistakes of leaders with the Biblical solutions. He passes on his perspective in The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make. These mistakes are common to the point of being “accepted leadership styles.” But, they're wrong! May I combine 40 years of ministry perspective with highpoints of the Mistakes book's first four chapters? I'll concentrate on the pastor's roll in leadership.

Parent, pastor, teacher, sibling . . . you're a leader! “How do you spell leadership? I–n–f–l–u–e–n–c–e. That's it! A one-word definition. Anyone who influences someone else to do something has led that person. Another definition might be: A leader takes people where they would never go on their own.”

We are in a crisis of Biblical pastoral leadership. Why have eight pastors in mega-churches lost the staff person closest to them? Each had a pastor who made a severing kind of mistake in leadership. Another large church pastor required the evangelism staff worker to “produce” two public professions of faith every Sunday. Two staff men in a row with that job resigned, getting divorced. The third worker resigned in time to save his marriage. The senior pastor never related the staff family breakups to his ego demands. Later, immorality and divorce ruined his ministry.

Why are leaders failing? First, few leaders have had any training. Some leaders just “wing it” all their lives with constant staff turnover. Second, today's leaders may lack the diligence to discern true godly models. And, if found, they may not get the critical mentoring from these busy leaders. Many pastor-leaders try to copy large-church leaders, thinking that baptisms, buildings, and budget successes equal Biblical leadership. Not necessarily. Many magnetic communicators, only observed from a distance, have private tragedies in their families and ministries when seen close-up. Also ministers “often lack basic skills for common leadership demands.” There is, lastly, the “confusion over the conflict between secular and Biblical leadership values.” Adopting many current business practices with staff people can guarantee tragedy.

“The privilege of leadership is a high calling . . . and adventure.” Let's see the mistakes and some practical answers to becoming Biblical leaders.

The Top Four Mistakes

  1. The top-down authority attitude. 
  2. Prioritizing paperwork before peoplework. 
  3. The absence of genuine affirmation. 
  4. No room for mavericks.

The Trap of Top-Down Authority Attitudes

People fall into this losing attitude for five basic reasons: It's traditional . . . old dad did it, the army, and my boss. It's by far the most common model people use. It's the easiest for it takes little thinking, only threats. It comes naturally, for that is the way we are. And it certainly reflects the depravity of man. Satan began the problem, and he is called the deceiver still.

What is the model to counter top-down leadership? It is what some prefer to call servant leadership. The servant leader idea has been around in business circles since the 60's, contained in a landmark work written by Douglas McGregor, Human Side of Enterprise.

Let's illustrate. Instead of everyone in the organization there to serve the leader (and the Lord?), the leader is at the “bottom of an inverted pyramid,” with everyone resting on his shoulders. Dr. Finzel explains: “I spend countless hours helping others be effective by providing them the facts, the energy, the resources, the networks, the information, or whatever else they need to do an effective job. Most of my day is spent laying aside my own priorities to help others fulfill theirs.”

Jesus on the night he was betrayed showed his servant heart in the upper room washing the disciples' feet. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his Master.” (John 13:15-16).

Putting Paper Before People

Some signs of a paper-pusher — even if he doesn't make lists of lists — may be seeing people as interruptions, preferring to work alone, or being a poor listener. Perhaps his self-worth is based on accomplishment more than relationships.

Henri J. Nouwen in his book Out of Solitude, writes “A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame. Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said with a funny twinkle in his eyes: ‘I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.’ This is the great conversion in life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return. ”

Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, built one of the most successful companies in history because he never allowed the organization to replace people as his number-one focus. During one meeting managers were reviewing customer problems with Mr. Watson. On the table were eight to ten piles of papers, identifying the sources of problems: manufacturing, engineering, etc. After much discussion Watson walked slowly to the front of the room and, with a flash of his hand, swept the table clean and sent papers flying. He said, “There aren't any categories of problems here. There's just one problem. Some of us are not paying enough attention to our customers.” He turned and walked out.

What has been found is that “the higher the rank, the more interpersonal and human the undertaking. Our top executives spend roughly 90 percent of their time concerned with the messiness of people problems.” A seminary Dean shared with me the shocking trend of small church pastors copying the mega church leaders in isolating themselves from ministry and wanting educational staff do most of their pastoral work except preach on Sundays. Perhaps this may reflect the desperate need for a people skills curriculum and especially the personal touch of mentoring in seminaries? In reading the Gospels have you made the amazing discovery that “Jesus spent more time touching people and talking to them than in any other action”? “Jesus was not primarily task-oriented even though He knew He had only three years to train 12 men to carry on the movement that would change the world!”

How Are People Changed?

Of all the change agents around us, what is the most impacting? How may we influence others into Christ likeness? Look back in your mind to what has had the greatest impact on your growth. A book, a tape, a sermon? Every survey gives the same answer, “A person, or a number of key people with whom we have had real-life personal contact, have been the primary change agents in our lives.” In one word: mentors.

Since this is true, a leader can qualitatively deepen his ministry impact with a mentoring touch with staff and church leadership. This is beyond his public ministry. Jesus made his “private ministry” training his disciples how to pray, witness, nurture, and disciple. Jesus refused to be comfortably insulated, and mentored his team of 11 into greatness and extraordinary spiritual production. Biblical leaders, intimate with Christ's heart, mentor staff.

Every church problem, money, personnel, needs, has its answer in God's provision of a Spirit-filled man or woman. You build them by mentoring. Paul gave his reason for living as: “I know that I shall continue with you, for your furtherance and joy of faith.” (Philippians 1:25). You can invest in two or three a year. Nothing I have done in ministry over the decades has paid off like this mentoring heart-ministry to staff and key men at church. And my failures have been in the mistakes Dr. Finzel has highlighted.

Another Way to Spell Leader

What could be better than a pay raise? Affirmation! “Leadership has as much to do with the ‘soft sciences’ as with getting things done. We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch of kindness.” Your people need varying levels of affirmation. Most affirmations, however, are “biodegradable” and must be replenished regularly. We all remember positive sentences said to us, and “play them” again and again. I know one exceptional Christian Education Minister who would never have left a pastor had this busy, spiritual leader focused simple kindness on his staff. The pastor still doesn't know why staff moves.

How do we encourage others? First, by listening (see James 1:19 ). The L in Leader stands for listening. Then we E Empathize (see Romans 12:15 ). Rejoice with those that joy, weep with the sad. Ask the Holy Spirit for the heart of Christ to feel with the one with whom you're talking. Next, Biblical leaders are good at comforting. Pain is standard in ministry and leadership. Our pain experiences become comfort avenues for others (see 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4 ). And we carry others burdens, “fulfilling the whole law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Listen, Encourage, Affirm, Disciple, Empathize, Respect those God has placed in your hands! Potential miracles surround every leader. Praying together can begin the process of bonding their heart with yours. “This is my continual prayer, the perfecting of your characters.” (2 Corinthians 13:9, Williams).

Make Room For Mavericks

Maverick Industrialist Henry Ford said, “I'm looking for a lot of men with an infinite capacity for not knowing what can't be done.” Is there room for mavericks in your organization, your house? The new staff member can bring fresh ideas, excitement, and valid perspective. Yet many soon flame out from the cold water sprayed by the leader. Leaders who have lost the quest to jump into a new century and win, rarely encourage the maverick staffer. Webster defines a maverick as “a pioneer, an independent individual who does not go along with a group.” No staffer is to be a rebel. Rebels are like witchcraft, and must never be hired (see 1 Samuel 15:22,23). It is rarely the institutional core of the church, but its radical fringe that makes the mega strides advancing Christ's cause worldwide.

Joseph, Moses, Jesus, Paul, were all counter-culture in impact. Tom Edison and George Washington Carver were strange inventors who changed our world. Chester Carlson was laughed out of town for inventing the Xerox process. A Swiss watchmaker invented the quartz watch. His superiors rejected the idea. Americans and Japanese patented it, and Switzerland went from 85 percent global market share of watches to less than 15 percent.

When I suggested we evangelize Southern Methodist University to a leader years ago, he did not take to the idea. We were busy. I protested. My leader taught me a great lesson. He said, “If you believe God hears my prayers, that I desire to obey Him, pray that God will tell me.” I prayed four months. Suddenly the leader told me to begin evangelizing SMU. One of the harvest of students won and changed was the university president's son! My maverick personality had to be willing to trust God to work in and through His leader.

All of us have failed in leading — at home, on the job, in the church. But Jesus is the Lord of change. “Come unto Me.” Get honest before God. Repent. Confess your sin also to those who follow you. Let's return to Biblical leadership. The model for our ministry is still Jesus.