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How to Lose the Support of Your Senior Leader

As a rule, I’m pretty hard on senior leadership. Having been in such a position for over 25 years I know the bad side of senior leadership. I’ve witnessed it and, in full candor, I’ve been it.

My goal is always to improve senior leadership for all of us. That’s a chief goal of my blog. But what about supporting senior leadership? And the support from senior leadership for those attempting to follow? Those are equally important topics in leadership. Any good senior leader knows he or she is nothing without the people on their team. So that requires confidence in the people trying to follow senior leadership.

What causes senior leadership to lose confidence in people they are trying to lead? How do you lose the support of senior leadership?

Here are seven common ways:

  1. Give half-hearted devotion to the vision. Speaking for someone in senior leadership who feels the weight of completing the vision before us, there’s little time to waste on people who don’t share the same vision. It’s one thing not to understand it, to have questions about it or need development. Everyone has bad days and bad seasons, but it’s a completely different story when the person has lost passion — or never had passion — for the vision. Especially when they demonstrate it by their work.
     
  2. Work for a competing vision. It’s not that there couldn’t be another vision out there — but this is the one we’ve been called to complete. And, any team will crumble under competing visions. When a team member starts competing, it’s hard to maintain the support of senior leadership.
     
  3. Always bring surprises. As a senior leader, there’s a surprise everyday. Something is always coming that we didn’t see coming. It’s part of the job — and honestly it keeps most leader-types energized, even when the surprise presents a new challenge. But because they are so frequent, a healthy team helps limit them. If someone on the team, for example, knows there is a storm brewing and doesn’t share that with senior leadership in a timely manner, there is the potential for a bigger, more complicated challenge that might have been avoided with prior information. When that happens frequently, the senior leader may lose confidence in the team member.
     
  4. Never learn from mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Good leaders actually expect them as a part of the development process. It’s easy to lose the confidence of senior leadership, however, when mistakes made never produce improvement — or when there is an attitude of indifference towards them.
     
  5. Cease to follow through. Work has to be done. And every great idea is just an idea until someone follows through with a plan of accomplishment. That’s what separates great teams from mediocre teams. When team members never complete the tasks assigned, they lose the confidence of senior leadership. (This one deserves a sidebar. If there are more tasks assigned than possible to complete, there could be a problem on the senior leaders side. This is another article, but sometimes you have to “lead up” to help senior leadership understand this, but make sure the problem is too many tasks and not a need to develop as a task master. Make sure you’re doing all you can to get better at time-management, for example.)
     
  6. Cause your loyalty to be questioned. This one will raise eyebrows, but it’s true. Obviously, this requires a vision worth following, but loyalty towards senior leadership is necessary to complete the vision. I posted recently on some of my most repeated leadership nuggets. One of them, which I will expand upon in a future article, is “Don’t trip over your own humility.” Basically, I described that as don’t refuse to do the right thing because it seems self-serving. And that’s certainly the case when you expect loyalty of followers. But it’s necessary to carry a team forward in a healthy way.
     
  7. Say one thing. Do another. There’s no place where letting our “yes be yes and our no be no” is more important than on a healthy team. And every good leader knows this. People-pleasers don’t earn respect on a team once they are exposed. And, yes, this does start with senior leadership, but it must be carried through at every level of the team.

These are meant to be helpful. I work with a lot of ministry leaders who report to a senior pastor. I have never met one who didn’t want the support of the senior pastor, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with everything the pastor did. They want to be supported. When you’ve supposedly bought into the senior leadership, you want to be a team player. This is simply a gut-honest look at some common ways to lose their support.

And the same goes for senior leadership. We want people we can support, believe in and want to work with on our team. And every senior leader I know is trying to build such a team.

Granted, some are better at this than others. And, frankly, there are lots of senior leaders who aren’t worthy of much of the items on this list. They are difficult to follow because they are difficult to trust. They may be incompetent, lack drive and be very controlling. Those are subjects of other articles — subjects I write about frequently. I realize if you’re in one of these situations there may be a natural push-back to a article like this. This article assumes that at some point you believed in the senior leadership.  

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Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been helping churches grow vocationally for over 10 years.