A Tension that Makes Great Teams

Because I spend most of my time working with Christian ministry leaders and leadership teams in churches or ministry organizations, I regularly run into teams that have become hospice care centers to the detriment of quality work that needs to be done. However, as I interact with colleagues in the for-profit business world, I frequently hear about the opposite sinkhole where people don’t matter only what they produce does. Neither extreme makes for a healthy team.

I would like to suggest that the tension of needing to care for people and also get the job done is a tension that can nurture great teams.

If all a team does is focus on task, you are moving into the demoralizing posture of using people without developing or even attending to them as individuals. If all a team does is care for each other, you are moving into the demotivating posture where the hard work, expertise, even sacrifice of people is ignored.

On the other hand, when people are cared for in a team-based context where the cause that drives the team is compellingly pursued, you have the potential of releasing the greatest creative energy. When people feel safe, they feel safe to risk and experiment. When challenging assignments or pressure packed deadlines are balanced with support for the people facing that pressure, the entire team finds the will power to keep their hands on the plow together.

If you can imagine these dynamics as intersecting axes, any team or organizational unit could actually plot their state of balanced tension at any given moment in time. In fact, a five minute check-in could help a team take its collective “temperature” in real time.

You could label these axes a number of ways: Task v. Relationship; Nurture v. Productivity; or as I prefer Cause v. Community.

The “Cause” axis measures the intensity of focus and demands your team places on the work it is supposed to be doing. (Is it very high or low at the moment?) The “Community” axis measures the weight of attention being given to caring for the people on your team.

The point where the two lines intersect reveals the current state of balance between these two tensions. [In the diagram, the dashed line example would be a team that is weaker as a caring community right now but highly productive. The dotted gray line shows a team that is less of a productive focused unit and more of a caring community right now.] And obviously, your team could score high-high or low-low just as easily.

Why does all this matter? It is because highly effective teams make greater impact. They are like finely tuned v-10 race engines instead of anemic gas saving 4-cyclinders. They steward people while making a difference.

So, thinking about the key team(s) you lead or function on how would you diagram these two creative tensions right now?

IDEA: Use this paradigm as a discussion prompt for a work-group, a task-force, a governing board, a focused team, or any other identified group of people you have the chance to work with.

Character & Competency

A few days ago I posted the first in a series of essays on what I have found to be five attributes of a high-capacity leader. These attributes seem to function in two ways that matter to everyone of us. On the one hand they are like horses harnessed together to pull a load. And at the same time, individually they have the capacity to sabotage what could be accomplished by the others. This is the second of four essays on this theme.

CHARACTER
There is a good shift taking place. While it seems that the majority of training and leadership expectations focus on one’s competencies, there is a lot of emphasis these days on the character that lives deeper than competencies. To that extent we are on the right track. As I and many of my colleagues believe, influence flows out of who you are not what you can do. Character is not the only thing that matters, but without it nothing else matters much.

However, in the popular conversations, it seems we often speak of leaders ‘having character’ as if that means they possess a strength of will to sustain them through the challenges they face. Or, we use character as a synonym for integrity.  To be sure these qualities flow from a leader’s character. However, I mean to imply something more.

The character of a leader is the personalized imprint of God on the inner life. It is not merely the imposition of a predetermined list, (i.e. the Boy Scout Law: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,etc.) I think of character as the comprehensive and unique landscape of one’s soul — the integrated package of convictions forged by experience and the internal formation carried out by the Spirit of God which shape our behavior.

Character makes an imprint on everything we do, every relationship we maintain, and every facet of our behavior. It is more than who I am when no one is looking. It is also who I am when everyone is looking.

It is a matter of soul and spirit. Spiritually, it is reflected in 2 Chr. 16:9
“The eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the earth, that he might fully support the man whose heart is completely his.”


COMPETENCY
At the same time, leaders need to have skills–significant skills! In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their abilities in order to lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.
Don’t misunderstand my comments on character to mean that skills don’t matter.  We live in a demanding world. In fact, most leaders find they are expected to be competent in a wide range of arenas they were never trained in.

Influence flows out of character, but high capacity leaders are also highly competent. They don’t flaunt their expertise, but they are constantly working to develop their skill-set. Character-deep leaders understand the relationship between character and competency. While character may be the key to influence, they have also learned to rely on their competencies much like a master-mechanic relies on tools. When the tasks demand it, they pull out different tools, use them with wisdom, and then put them back into the tool chest for another day.

In a world characterized by quantum and continuous change, we will always need new skills. We can benefit from skills that minimize personal deficits, but more importantly, we need to hone those skills that build on personal strengths.
Biblical parallels:
Ps 78:72:  “David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hand he led them.”
1 Tim 4:11-15:  “…do not neglect your gift…be diligent… so that everyone may see your progress.”

Five C’s of High Capacity Leaders

In a world that crowds after the illusion of simple formulas, what I am about to say might venture too close to that black hole. However, my conviction is that the five attributes below represent the journey of a leader’s life long development. As a matter of fact, our quest for quick-fix, simple leadership formulas is actually what derails us from the depth of this developmental journey.

The extent to which a man or woman has cultivated all five dimensions of his or her life, is the measure by which they will find the influence of their life growing exponentially. By the same token, every dimension that is missing or stunted  sabotages the scope of that influence.

I have taught on four of these five dimensions for some time, perhaps even beginning to take for granted that everyone already “gets it.” But this past week in a conversation with a very sharp woman leader I discovered that I have also come to understand the fifth dimension. So, whether this serves as a review of the familiar or as fresh thinking I hope it serves you.

I also make the assumption that you live with a God-given desire to live a life of influence — to make a mark that cannot be easily erased. In that spirit, I invite you to consider the shape of the following in your life:

CHARACTER :: Influence flows out of who you are more than what you do. Character is more than force of will or consistency. It is that unique combination of who you are when no one is looking and the formation of your soul through intimacy with Christ.

COMPETENCY :: At the same time, leaders need to have skills. In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their skills that they might lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.

CALLING :: Leaders are surrounded by those with an agenda, expectation, or demand for them. Yet, leaders of influence are those live before the Audience of One rather than for the applause of the crowd. They do so because they understand and align their behavior with a clear sense of calling and contribution.

COURAGE :: Unfortunately, the crowd won’t like it. Therefore, leaders must be people of courage. You cannot lead without conflict, even when you are doing the right thing in the right way. And, you cannot wade toward or through that conflict without courage. Without courage, you will dodge the hard stuff.

COMMUNITY :: Leaders don’t live or lead in isolation. While leading is often an isolating experience, leaders seek out, form, choose, and live in interdependence with others. They create safe places of community for others by the way they pursue it themselves.

So, if you were to give yourself a grade of ‘A’ to ‘F’ on each of the five, what would your report card look like today?

MORE TO COME:
I am going to post an essay on each of these five every few days over the next couple weeks. I’d invite you to absorb them one at a time. Post a thought or two about how you are learning work on each dimension.

After I have completed the series,  I’ll post it as one downloadable .pdf and add some group reflection questions so that you might use it as a resource with those who lead beside you.