Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

March 1999
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Leaders Enable Others to Act – Part 1

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

According to “The Leadership Challenge” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, leaders:

  1. Challenge the process.
  2. Inspire a shared vision.
  3. Enable others to act.
  4. Model the way.
  5. Encourage the heart.

3. Leaders enable others to act.

Nothing truly great occurs without the active involvement and support of many people. Fulfilling the purpose of God for our organizations must be everyone’s responsibility, and good leaders promote teamwork rather than competition as the road to success. Competition (which is trying to beat others) is vastly different in purpose from collaboration (which is trying to do well).

The relationships of the team members are the organization’s key asset, and leaders must know how to nurture them. In building a strong team out of people with diverse and sometimes conflicting interests, leaders must develop cooperative goals, seek integrative solutions and build trusting relationships, through:

a. Always saying “we.” The leader’s task is to help people reach mutual goals and not merely his own goals. Inclusive language will communicate the fact that goals are truly collaborative and not exploitative. This will lead to stable and committed relationships that are able to weather conflicts and difficulties.

b. Sustaining ongoing interactions between team members. The leader must ensure that team members don’t work in isolation from one another. Formal and informal meetings will help, as will sharing resources. Teams should be limited in size to a “knowable” number of people. Moreover, team members must be encouraged to work through their conflicts together rather than using the leader as a go-between.

c. Focusing on gains, not losses. When dealing with problems, team members must be led to focus on their areas of agreement first, rather than their differences. Deliberately recognizing the alignment of everyone’s goals is a powerful way to create a sense of mutuality. Furthermore, emphasizing the long-term nature of the team’s goals will strengthen the vision and assist collaboration.

d. Viewing differences as creative opportunities. In reality, differences can generate more alternatives – and thus new opportunities – than similarities do. The leader must ask lots of questions and listen closely to the needs, problems and ideas of the team members, to find solutions no-one has previously discovered.

e. Trusting team members. Individuals who cannot trust others, fail to become leaders. They end up either doing all the work themselves or supervising so closely they become overbearing and controlling. Moreover, their demonstration of lack of trust for others, undermines others’ trust in them. To build strong partnerships, leaders should involve the people closest to the work in planning and solving problems associated with it. Delegation builds broad ownership and establishes an atmosphere of trust.

f. Going first. One cannot legislate true cooperation or trust. As the leader first shows a willingness to cooperate and to trust others, his example encourages others to do the same. Thus, leaders should be open and honest with others regarding their own limitations and mistakes, and should be liberal with information, resources, spontaneous (versus mechanical) affirmations, showing genuine interest, and giving a listening ear. They should also avoid talking negatively about other team members.

g. Listening to the Holy Spirit. We must allow the Holy Spirit to crucify our natural competitiveness, and to replace it with the servant attitude of Jesus. Moreover, He will show us the true nature of our organizations and teams, exposing what needs to be changed, and helping us to build effective teams that will accomplish His purposes and bring Him glory.

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