Senior Leadership Teams: Are You Avoiding These Mistakes with Your Team?

Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with over 50 churches. There are many, many healthy situations when it comes to senior leadership teams. Healthy leaders are, of course, in the best position to lead healthy churches. Along the way, though, I’ve identified some traps that can create challenges for both leaders and the ministries they lead.

As we continue this series on senior leadership teams, here are eight mistakes to avoid:

  1. Adding a family member without considering their capacity or counting the cost. To improve the chances for success, let others make the hiring decision and provide leadership to that family member. And frankly, I think it’s best if both family members are not on the senior leadership team together.
  2. Hiring personality rather than leadership capacity. There are lots of good people (fun people!) who aren’t necessarily the best leaders. There are roles for those folks, but it may not be on your senior leadership team.
  3. Elevating seniority over leadership capacity. I’ve been friends with some people for 20 years or more. The length of our relationship, though, doesn’t necessarily mean they are best positioned to serve in leadership with me. Just because you’ve served with someone for 20 years doesn’t mean they’re the right person for your leadership team either.
  4. Hiring to fill roles. Think leadership capacity before job titles. You need the right people rather than the right positions.
  5. Giving someone leadership responsibilities before they’ve proven they have the capacity for the role. This is a biblical principle. “Never be in a hurry about appointing a church leader.” (1 Timothy 5:22 NLT)
  6. Allowing complainers to stay too long. You want healthy conflict — that’s part of healthy teamwork. Constant complaining from someone who doesn’t fully embrace the vision, values, strategy, and authority of the church, though, is never healthy.
  7. Failing to empower the other leaders. This includes leaders on the senior leadership team and leaders in other staff and volunteer roles in the ministry. When we try to control people, we’re denying them the opportunity to fulfill God’s mission for their lives and God’s plan for the church.
  8. Meeting too often and too long. As I’ve mentioned before, the best resource you can read on this topic is Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. We need less talk and more action.

Some of you read that list and thought: “I have a problem.” Being in ministry, this is obvious, but your first step is to begin praying about that situation. God wants healthy leaders and healthy churches as well. He’ll answer that prayer.

Secondly, you need to engage the tough conversations. Don’t delay.

  • Start by asking questions. What’s working? What’s not? Are you fulfilled? Don’t be surprised if they open the door to the issues you were avoiding.
  • State your clear expectations for the role. Be honest. Be clear. Explain what success looks like for the person in the role.
  • Provide coaching. Offer training resources or experiences. Outline mentoring opportunities.
  • Establish a timeline. When will you check in? When will you consider next steps?
  • Follow up. Follow up in writing with what you’ve discussed. Follow up with conversations to make sure appropriate progress is happening.

These tough conversations will not always lead to resolution of the issue, but many times, they will. In other instances, you may have to follow tough conversations with tough decisions — that’s leadership. To help you discern when tough decisions are required, check out the latest book by Dr. Henry Cloud called Necessary Endings.

By the way, it’s possible to have the right people but not be performing at your highest capacity as a team. You may need outside help and fresh perspective to make sure you have the right people and that you’re maximizing your potential. I’d love to help you consider those next steps. Let’s talk.

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Tony Morgan
Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.

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