Having first conceived the vision, the leader must now shift the vision to those who will actually be responsible for bringing it to pass. This process began when the leader shared the vision with the people. Now he must accomplish “vision-shift.” He must actually give away the capacity to fulfill the vision. He must build a team that will act on the vision and bring it to pass.
According to the New Testament, the role of the leader is not merely to do the ministry but to equip the people to minister.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:11-16)
For many spiritual leaders this is a radical shift in mindset: to become a team-builder instead of being someone who just does it all himself – to move from focusing on the task to focusing on the people.
The relationships of the team members are the organization’s key assets, 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:
- 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.
- Building the team with the right people. A wise leader will populate his team according to his own weaknesses. Some leaders make the mistake of staffing their team with people who are just like themselves. The effective leader will surround himself with people whose strengths make up for his own weaknesses, as well as bringing people on board who share his own strengths. When Jesus built His leadership team for the future, He brought together a very diverse group of people whose strengths and weaknesses balanced each other.
- Sustaining ongoing interactions between team members. The leader must ensure that team members do not 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. For example, Jesus’ top leadership team consisted of 12 men. Moreover, team members must be encouraged to work through their conflicts together rather than using the leader as a go-between. Like Paul in Philippians 4:2, the leader must refuse to “take sides” but maintain his equal commitment to all team members.
- 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.
- Viewing differences as creative opportunities, and not as threats. 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.
- Trusting team members. People who cannot trust others, fail to become effective leaders. Often they also burn out. They end up either doing all the work themselves or supervising it so closely they become overbearing and controlling. Moreover, their demonstration of lack of trust for others undermines others’ trust in them.
- Involving the people closest to the work in planning and solving problems associated with it. They are the most qualified to make those decisions anyway. Delegation builds broad ownership and establishes an atmosphere of trust.
- 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. They must not allow themselves to be pulled into camps, but instead be “camp busters”!
- Simplifying structure. Instead of a complicated bureaucratic structure in your team, work on developing a simpler structure that makes decision-making and communication easier,11 and is capable of rapid growth.
- 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 churches and ministries, exposing what needs to be changed, and helping us to build effective teams that will accomplish His purposes and bring Him glory.
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 together). Competition is the old paradigm; collaboration is the new.