Archives For LeadingThoughtfully | Nati Stander

As I watched the video of the Notre Dame burning down, it was as if I was looking at a picture of the Church in general. What if the Notre Dame, mirrors the worldwide Church?

  1. The unthinkable became a reality.

For 850 years the contours of the Notre Dame shaped the horizon of Paris. For many of the residents of the surrounding area, it is unthinkable to wake up to a skyline without a spire. I mean, the Notre Dame survived the first and the second World War. Surely it has stood the test of time? Nothing can destroy it! Yet, the unthinkable has happened. The bastion where time stood still, suddenly is no more…

In countless other communities across the globe, there once too was a bell tower that defined the inner life of society. For many it was unthinkable that church life would fall into obscurity and dissappear altogether, but alas, this is what happened and is continuing to happen.

This past year alone, numerous books and articles have been published about the worldwide decline in church. A shift in attendance, involvement and membership can be noticed across gender, race and age groups as well as denominational and non-denominational, start-up and mainline churches from around the globe. More and more faith communities are struggling to keep the lights on. For many who call God “Father”, it is unthinkable that what we call “Mother”, is dying. Yet, this is the reality we wake up to.

We watched in horror how the Notre Dame was engulfed in flames and succumbed to the fire. Many would say we are also witnesses of the crumbling of the Church as a whole, in this day and age.

  1. A tremendous sense of loss

As I watched the videos of the Notre Dame going up in flames, I was overcome with a sense of tremendous loss. The charred faced Notre Dame, is the epitome of devastation. The Notre Dame was a beacon of culture, architecture and history. The gravity of mankind’s loss, has not yet fully sunk in.

But the “sense of loss” is found on another level as well: For a lot of church going people, the Notre Dame is also the epitome of what a church ought to be: It is a “sanctuary” in the true sense of the word – and an impressive one at that! The magnificent walls, the stained glass windows, the enormous arches, the 300 foot spire – these truly are awe inspiring. They are also relics from the middle ages. It represents a time when the Church had money, status and power. Who would not want to be a member of a church that influenced monarchs for centuries?

Obviously things have changed over the years. The days when the Church had money, status and power, are long gone. But seeing that era so vividly going up in flames, was painful.

It seldom happens that a church vanishes overnight. More often than not, churches tend to slip into irrelevance, subtly. Often without the church even noticing it, societal shifts come into play. And then one day – as if it happened overnight – the local church realizes that she has been gently pushed aside by the community. Ignored. She fell into the dark abyss of irrelevance.

For a lot of us as believers – especially for those of us who remember the days of influence and significance – it is painful to be confronted with the fact that the church is suddenly powerless, poor and despised. The sense of loss is real and traumatic – very much like what you experience when watching the Notre Dame burning down.

While benefactors raised over 900 million euro’s in just over 2 days to rebuild the Notre Dame, the same will unfortunately not be said for the countless other congregations who are under increasing financial pressure. This is perhaps the sharpest point of difference between the Notre Dame and every other local church. The world will most probably not lift a finger or give a dime to save it (and let’s be honest, they are not obliged to).

There’s a feeling of helplessness to it all. The downward spiral almost feels like it is a fire raging out of control. Or as if you are trying to swim against a tide that is too strong for you. The enormous power with witch societies are swept away into secularization, is aptly described as a wildfire or a tidal wave!

  1. Maintenance causes a downfall

The first sign of smoke at Notre Dame was seen at the section where scaffolding was erected to renovate the building. At the time of writing this post, the cause of the fire is still unconfirmed. There is however widespread speculation that it was either caused by sparks of the maintenance equipment, or human error.

There is a tragic irony in that, what caused Notre Dame’s downfall was most probably due to people trying to renovate it! A maintenance project of 150 million euro’s were ongoing on Monday, when the building caught fire.

Let me be clear: There is literally nothing wrong with maintaining the building. It is what good stewards ought to do. On a metaphorical level though, maintenance-mode is currently the exact mindset of so many churches worldwide.

We have enormous infrastructures to maintain. The overheads of the institutional church have made us top-heavy. What was once considered assets, have now become liabilities. What’s wrong with the Church, is that the baggage of our past has bogged us down. All the inward-focus has resulted in a toxic preoccupation with our own survival and self-existence. It’s not very Christlike, to tell you the truth. We were supposed to be missional-minded. We have fallen into maintenance-mode.

  1. We’ve overcomplicated Church

The sight of Notre Dame burning down, looked familiar. In the past decade I’ve seen many churches implode. I could identify with the decaying church I saw.

But at the same time I also felt disconnected. The church in front of me was so very different from my own. The Notre Dame has stone carved gargoyles that serves as drain spoutes. The church I am in, has a very plain building.

The medievel wyverns, strixes and chimeras that decorate the towers of the Notre Dame, let it seem as if we are worlds apart. The church I am in, is undecorated. It is simple. Or is it?

The church I am in, also consists of frills and frocks. We have structure. Hierarchy. Congregations became denominations and affiliations. Synods became institutions. I’m honestly not convinced that Jesus had envisioned all this for his Church to be. What once was a movement, became a bureaucracy. I don’t pretend to know what we ought to do, but I do know we’ve overcomplicated Church.

  1. Let’s rebuild!

The ashes of Notre Dame were not even cold yet, when people started saying “We will rebuild Notre Dame”. Shortly after the spire fell, even the French President stood outside the still burning structure and said: “We will rebuild the Notre Dame, because that is what the French expect”.

Generations to come will be poorer without a Notre Dame. So, I was honestly relieved to hear of the plans to rebuild the majestic jewel.

But I was also struck by how familiar the words of the president sounded. In all of the conversations about church decline, you will always hear someone recalling the glory of the past. Usually, it also coincides with reclaiming the solutions of the past, for the problems of today.

It is as if nobody is asking whether “rebuilding” the Church to its former “glory”, is really the right thing to do? Do we really want to restore (everything) of the Church of yesteryear? I, for one, do not think everything of the glorious past was so glorious after all. In South Africa we’ve learned the hard way for instance, that it is best not to mix Church and political power. With the unprecedented rise of the prosperity gospel, the same must probably be said about Church and money.

Shouldn’t we – instead of rebuilding the Church – be redesigning it? Or maybe even re-discovering it? The fact is that we now have more in common with the Church of the New Testament era, than what we did when we had money, power and status. We would do well if we rediscovered our roots.

  1. Church beyond the walls

One of the scenes of the burning Notre Dame that really moved me, was of parishioners sadly singing hymns, while looking onto their beloved church ablaze. I wanted to comfort them. I wanted to tell them that their church did not burn down. It just moved. Their church were now there where they stood and sang the hymns.

Considerate of the fact that the blaze at Notre Dame is a tremendous loss of architecture, culture and history – we must also say: “It was not a church that burnt down. It was a building”.

We desperately need – not only to rediscover – but also to redefine what “Church” is. For many people, “church” is the building where we gather. Or at best, “church” is the Sunday morning timeslot when we meet. But “Church” according to the New Testament, is the people.

When I saw the Church singing hymns while the Notre Dame building was burning down, I saw a picture of the future Church: Small. Fluid. Non-hierarchical. Streamlined. Simplified. Stripped-down of everything unnecessary. Unconfined by the walls of the institutional church. Vulnerable. Beautiful. And powerful beyond their imagination.

The first Friday after the blaze, will be Good Friday. A paradoxical day when mankind looked upon Jesus, and saw someone seemingly weak and defeated upon a cross. Yet, he was about to do his most powerful work in that hour.

A vulnerable, stripped-down Church might not attract 13 million tourists per year like the Notre Dame did. But it sure will change the lives of the people in the community.

  1. Church’s center found intact

Firefighters fought the blaze throughout the night. Although two-thirds of the roof had been destroyed, president Macron said “the worst has been avoided”. The New York Post featured an article with the title Center of Notre Dame cathedral miraculously intact. The word “miraculously” caught my attention as ‘n curious choice of words. The post depicted photos of the cross inside the cathedral, just behind the altar.

My prayer is that the center of the worldwide Church would also be found “intact”. I am reminded of the words of Jesus “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt 16:18). These words were in reply to Peter’s confession: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”.

Tragically, some have understood Jesus’ words to mean that He will build his Church on the body of Peter. They went and literally built a church of mortar and brick on Peter’s bones. This is where the Vatican is today.

But the more probable reading of the Greek implies that the Church Jesus was talking about, will not be built on Peter’s corpse, but on Peter’s confession. This is to be the center of our faith: Jesus is the messiah, the Son of the living God!

If it hasn’t dawned upon you by now, let me put it to you bluntly: The Church that is going to take us from here, is going to look radically different from the Church that got us to here. Yes, tumultuous times lies ahead.

But I’m not giving up on the bride. But it is an immense privilege to be part of the process in this day and age, of rediscovering the core of Church.

To my 4 sons…

Boys, they say a lot change when you turn 40. I’m hoping to live the second part of my life with more wisdom than the first. If I could share a life lesson for every year that I’ve lived, these would be the lessons:

5 Lessons on life.

  1. Boys, somehow your dad thought I would have achieved more by 40 than what and who I am currently. In retrospect I think I succumbed too much to other people’s dreams, expectations and agendas with my life – to the expense of my own. If I could do it all over, I’d care less about what other people think of me.
  2. The key to living a high impact life though, is resilience. Although you can only control 50% of what happens to you in life, you are 100% in control of how you respond to everything that happens to you.
  3. Many people ask “What is life’s meaning?”. Viktor Frankl’s advice is to turn the question around and ask: “What meaning can I give to life? What value can I add?” I have found that to be the most important question to ask oneself.
  4. Guys, you have so much potential. You would be able to do anything you want with your life. Just remember that you can’t do and be everything. If you say “yes” to something, inadvertently you are saying “no” to something else. Learn to say “no” to good things, in order to be able to say “yes” to better things.
  5. Travelling really does broaden one’s mind. The Church Father St Augustine said: “Travelling is like reading a book. Why would someone choose to stay on one page?” If it is too expensive to travel, at least make friends with people who are different than you. Diversity always enriches you. Make sure you stay a lifelong learner.

5 Lessons on relationships with family & friends.

  1. Boys, we often wrestled with each other. When someone got hurt, the one who did the hurting did not get to decide if what he did really caused pain or not. The same principle applies in all of life’s relationships, whether it’s your brother or someone from a different gender or race. When someone says that you hurt them, apologize sincerely, learn from it and don’t do it again.
  2. Be quick to forgive. Seriously. Keeping grudges and throwing a pitty party is childish and drains your joy. Forgive and move on.
  3. Traditions and rituals in a family, fosters a sense of security for everyone. Do you remember the “appreciation game” we played on family nights? Each one gets the opportunity to verbalize appreciation for the other. We do that because we don’t believe in bringing flowers to someone’s funeral. Make the most of family. But take care that dependence on one another does not lead to intermeshed lives. Families where the members’ lives are undifferentiated from each other, tend to get unhealthy.
  4. Some people say they only show respect for those who have earned it. But you and I know how it feels to be treated with respect even when we haven’t deserved it. Treat people according to their inherent worth, even if they do not believe in it themselves, and you will see how they blossom. People react to grace. God conditioned us this way.
  5. There is a difference between sacrificing your life and wasting it. Sometimes the lines tends to get blurry between the two. It sounds cruel, but Irma Kurtz was right when she said: “Givers have to set limits, because takers rarely do”. Take it from me, a couple of years ago I burned out because I neglected this truth. I thought I was sacrificing, but in fact I was pouring myself wastefully out into other people. Boundaries are healthy.

5 Lessons on resolving conflict.

  1. The difference between a good and an exceptional leader, is the fact that the exceptional leader is willing to initiate the conversation about the elephant in the room. I want you to always be the one who confronts the elephant in the room. Never shy away from the elephant (except when you are in the Kruger National Park).
  2. Never match someone’s level of anger. Nobody has ever felt good after loosing their temper. So just don’t do it. Never overreact. And never overreact to someone else’s overreaction. Intentionally choose not to react, but to respond with calmness, and you will most definitely walk away as the victor.
  3. If possible, do not try to resolve conflict through writing. Your facial expression and tone of voice is more important than choosing the right words. It is called the disinhibition effect, and it is much more important than you think – especially in this online age. If there is no other way to resolve confict other than by writing, never send that confrontational email, WhatsApp message or social media post in the evening. A new morning always brings a new perspective – as well as new vocabulary. Always wait until the morning.
  4. Many differences end up being polarized to the extreme, because initially the opposing parties got the impression they weren’t being listened to. The feeling of not being heard, results in a growing distance and accelerates aggression. Many of the conflicts in our time, could have easily been diffused by listening and taking people seriously the first time round. So, put your own agenda aside, and listen to people’s concerns. Keep in mind that some differences are not meant to solve. Some problems are just too multifaceted to solve with singular solutions. We solve those kind of problems, by learning how to live respectfully with the different voices.
  5. Whatever you do – never ever demonize those with whom you differ. Speaking of demons, Friedrich Nietzsche said “When fighting monsters, beware that you do not become one yourself”. In our quest to stand for our convictions, we tend to justify our own harsh words, hatred and even violence, far too easily.

5 Lessons on productivity.

  1. The difference between being mediocre and extraordinary, is self discipline. Leading others, always starts with being self-aware and leading yourself.
  2. Boys, I expect you to come early for every appointment in life. If it is absolutely impossible to be early, at least be on time. But never be late. Nothing diminishes the respect people have for you as a leader so quickly, as when you waste their time.
  3. Your body functions on bio- and circadian rhythms. This means your body is better suited to do certain tasks on different times of the day. If you want to be productive, you thus not only have to manage your time, but also your energy.
  4. Although pursuing quality in your work will always be very important, when it comes to productivity, execution is even more important than perfection. Never let your perfectionistic quirks keep you from producing.
  5. I can go quicker by myself, but I can go further with a team. The most productive team in the long run is not task orientated, but people orientated. Shine the light on other team member’s achievements, and give them recognition in the public eye. It harbor’s a culture of trust and appreciation in a team.

5 Lessons on leadership.

  1. The best leadership advice I’ve ever received, was to surround myself with other high capacity leaders – people who are not afraid to challenge me.
  2. We’ve had good times with firearms, whether on the range or while hunting. I taught you everything I know about them, the most basic of which is to make sure you know where your bullet will end up if you miss your target. What you do have consequences and can end up hurting people. The same applies to leadership. Good leaders empower people. But remember that even though you delegate tasks, you can never delegate responsibility. The buck stops with you. I never want to hear you blame or accuse other people. Take responsibility.
  3. Trust is a leader’s most valuable commodity. You earn people’s trust slowly, bit by bit. Make yourself known over time as someone who under-promises and over-delivers.
  4. A tank crew gets shot at. They don’t like it, it just comes with the territory. They can’t avoid it by turning away or rolling back. The tank was designed for warfare and to advance is it’s purpose. Similarly, if you are a leader you will get criticized. Period. But keep on advancing. Luckily not all criticism deserves equal attention. I have learned that in order to be a good leader, you have to keep your skin hard and your heart soft. Never the other way around.
  5. Do you remember when I taught you how to drill a hole in iron? You make sure the drill bit’s point is sharp – and then you go very slowly. The same applies when leading people. Make sure the point you are making is sharp, and then slowly keep going. You always overestimate what you are capable of doing in 1 year, and underestimate the influence you can have over a 5 year period. But there is cumulative power, in consecutive consistency.

5 Lessons on braving your problems.

  1. You know firsthand from the farm that weeds grow without tending. That’s true for much of life’s problems as well. Problems just “happen”, without it having to be someone’s fault. And it is never a good idea to find fault where there is none. Being overly critical is draining on everyone around you. Instead of pointing to problems, rather point to solutions. And remember that most of the problems you face today, will by insignificant 3 years from now. That thought always helps me to curb the stress when dealing with difficult problems.
  2. Do you remember how we swam in the sea? Every now and then a tremendous wave would come and we would be tempted to turn our backs on it and run away. But if you do that, you will be overpowered and engulfed by the wave. The right way to survive these waves is actually counter-intuitive. You need to dive straight into them. The same is true for leaders and the way we engage life’s problems. We never turn our back on problems. We never run away. We dive in and tackle them head on.
  3. Your granddad told me: “There is always more than one solution to a problem”. Honestly, he was right. Before you set out to dive into a problem, first brainstorm a couple of possible solutions. More often than not, a combination of ideas might emerge as a meaningful solution. If you still don’t know what to do, choose the most difficult thing. Often the most difficult thing to do, is the right thing to do.
  4. A smile will evoke a smile in return. Always smile. Always walk up straight and carry yourself in a self assured manner – even if your are terrified. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability of doing the right thing in spite of it. So carry yourself with confidence – but never with arrogance. Being humble is more important than trying to be important.
  5. There are times in life when you will come to the realization that your best is not good enough. That’s an awful feeling. I know, because I’ve often felt it. Show up anyway. Again and again and again. Every time.

5 Lessons on love.

  1. I Know you don’t want to hear about your parent’s sex life. But here it is anyway: Sex is great – but it is even better if you make sure your partner enjoys it. I call it the “sex paradox” and I think God made it on purpose that way, because it alludes to the rest of life as well. The principle is, the more we seek happiness for ourselves, the more it eludes us. The more we seek happiness for others, the more we find it for ourselves. Remember that when making love someday – but also for everyday life.
  2. In marriage, you can choose to be right or you can choose to be happy, but you can’t be both. I know it sounds cynical, but I’m not. It’s just that quibbling over everything is not worth it. Being right, comes at a price. In order to be right, you have to prove the fault lies with your partner – and that way of reasoning is very toxic for both of you. Getting your way with everything is just not worth it.
  3. You guys always tell me how beautiful your future wives are going to be. I believe you. However – my father told me, and now I want to do the same with you – when choosing a life partner someday, do not base your decision solely on attractiveness. I know it may seem impossible to you now, but much more important than sexual appeal, is sapiosexuality. Find someone with a depth of character, and she will mesmerize you for the rest of your life.
  4. In life we brush our teeth and we service our cars. Maintenance is important. In fact, what you do every day, matters more than what you do every once in a while. This is particularly true of marriage. The overseas holiday is nice. But the true blessing is found in the small, healthy daily interactions.
  5. You guys know, on the farm we often saw the necessity of felling a tree. But the rule is always: “Never cut a tree in winter time”. The same principle applies to human relationships, and especially marriage. Every relationship goes through some dry spells. Work on it, and you will see spring is around the corner.

5 Lessons on God.

  1. You will be pressured to choose between faith and reason. Choose both. The world presents to you a false tension between the two. There is nothing contradictory in being an intellectual believer. Faith and doubt, in similar manner, also go hand in hand. Don’t be shocked when you become aware of doubt in your faith. The way to live with doubt, is to come to the realization that what you believe in, is greater than what you don’t.
  2. The biggest responsibility anyone can ever have, is taking on a parenting role. Obviously you have to provide and nurture your child. But that is the least of your responsibility. Unknowingly, the way you listen, love and discipline your child, will be shaping the unconscious image your child will have of God – whether you are male or female – because God is portrayed as father and mother in the Bible. In my own case, your grandparents were such wonderful parents to me, that I cannot believe anything malicious, mean or manipulating about God. I can only hope that I am half the father to you guys, that my dad was to me. Please my sons, be loving fathers one day.
  3. God is your father and the Church is your mother – whether you like her or not. I will be the first to admit that the Church is defective in so many ways. But when criticizing her, I expect you to do it in a loving manner, just as you would when talking about your own mother’s shortcomings.
  4. You are loved by God, immeasurably more than you can ever imagine. The same holds true for the other creatures with whom we share this planet – and in particular other human beings (the one’s we like and the one’s we don’t). Because you are loved by God, be tender towards yourself. Be tender towards others.
  5. The most profound discovery one can make in this life, is when you realize that Grace is not a doctrine. It is a Person, and his name is Jesus.

On 14 November 1965, some 450 men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore, were dropped by helicopter in the Ia Drang Valley. They were immediately surrounded by ±2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. It was the first full-fledged battle between U.S. and North Vietnamese soldiers.

Later Lt. Col. Hal Moore wrote:

Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Huu An, of the People’s Army of Vietnam, and I were doing our best to kill each other. We’d been at it for 2 hours in the miserably hot, humid scrub jungle fringing a football field-sized clearing in the remote Ia Drang Valley of South Vietnam. He was commanding well-trained, well-armed soldiers of the 66th North Vietnamese Regiment. I was a Lieutenant Colonel, an infantry paratrooper commanding a 450-man Air Assault Infantry Battalion. The problem for me, at that moment, was that I’d only been able to bring in about 250 of my men. I had sixteen Huey helicopters and it was a 20-minute round trip from the pick-up/loading areas. Lt. Col. An was attacking with upwards of 1,800 very aggressive soldiers fiercely determined to kill us all. I was suffering heavy casualties, both killed and wounded, among my troopers. We were in a struggle for survival in the first major battle between US Army and North Vietnamese regulars.”

You might not be into militaty history (or even a keen fan of the military itself) but one has to admit that it takes an exceptional leader to inspire men to lay down their lives for a cause. We can certainly learn from these leaders.

Outnumbered and outgunned, Col Hal Moore and his men fought their way through the enemy. Moore led from the front. A fierce battle ensued for the following couple of days. Although 79 U.S. soldiers died, the small unit fought with such bravery that the Communists had to withdrew. By 16 November 1965, enemy casualties amounted to 1200.

This was not Lt. Col. Hal Moore’s first battle – nor was it his last. By the end of his career he was a highly decorated military officer. But even more important than the medals that he won, was the respect his men had for him. Lt. Col. Hal Moore was a phenomenal leader.

Military author Mike Guardia compiled Lt. Col Moore’s wisdom on leadership in the book: “Hal Moor on leadership. Winning when outgunned and outmanned”. I recently read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Numerous fascinating battle stories are recounted in the pages of the book. Within these stories, valuable leadership lessons are to be found. So, this the book is not only intended for people in a military context, but for any leader who is tasked with the responsibility of leading other people.

I found myself being inspired by Hal Moore’s bravery, to be a braver leader myself. There are too many gems in the book to name them all. That’s why I thought I would start by only giving you ten: Continue Reading…

How would you know if your company/organization/Church is heading in the wrong direction from a leadership perspective? What would you say is the big “red flag” that signifies the beginning of the end?

I’m currently reading John Kotter’s phenomenal work “Leading Change”. Actually, I’m digesting it – bit by bit – very slowly.

I find the book exceptional. Though it is written from a secular point of view, many if not all the principles can be applied to the context of the Church. Kotter makes the following statement and I find myself going back to it again and again:

The syndrome, as I have observed it on many occasions, goes like this: Success creates some degree of market dominance, which in turn produces much growth. After a while, keeping the ever-larger organization under control becomes the primary challenge. So attention turns inward, and managerial competencies are nurtured. With a strong emphasis on management but not leadership, bureaucracy and an inward focus take over. But with continued success, the result mostly of market dominance, the problem often goes unaddressed and an unhealthy arrogance begins to evolve. All of these characteristics then make any transformation effort much more difficult.

An inward focus. Bureaucracy.

Isn’t this the story of so many congregations?

Hoe lyk die toekoms van die Kerk in Suid Afrika? Wat wag vir ons? Waarvoor moet ons ons gereed maak?

Die VSA is aan die voorpunt van verandering en in terme van kultuurskuiwe, ‘n paar jaar ons vooruit. Ek was bevoorreg om bykans ‘n maand lank in die VSA ‘n studietoer mee te maak na oor die 20 bestemmings – verspreid oor 9 state.

Hierdie is die 40 indrukke oor die toekoms wat ek terugbring. Dit help my om te probeer onderskei tussen 4 soorte indrukke:

  1. Kultuurskuiwe waarmee ons moet rekening hou,
  2. Gewaarwordinge oor teologie,
  3. Tendense in bedieningspraktyk en
  4. Indrukke oor leierskap.

Continue Reading…

As leaders, we always strive for cohesion in a group. Whether you are putting a team together or trying to form a small group, the rule of thumb is to maximize cohesion. The more cohesive a group, the more effective it can work on tasks or deliver the required outcome.

Generally speaking, the five factors in “group dynamics” that influence cohesion, is:

  • Stability– The longer a group is together with the same members, the more cohesive the group will be.
  • Similarity– The more similar the group members are in terms of age, race, sex, education level etc, the more cohesive the group will be.
  • Size– Cohesion develops quicker in small groups than in large group.
  • Support– If individual team members have mentors or supporting leaders who provide input and encouragement to support one another, the team as a whole will be more cohesive.
  • Satisfaction– The more satisfied team members are with each others performance, output or work ethics, the more cohesive the team will be.

So, the more cohesive a group, the better . . . or is it? There comes a time when cohesion can actually lead to something social psychologists call “groupthink“. Groupthink is when a group value harmony above critical thinking. Consensus becomes more important than allowing alternative viewpoints. Sure, the group will say that they tolerate differences, but unknowingly they follow the leader(s) unquestioningly. The unwritten group dynamic is to discourage disagreement. Controversial issues are avoided and individuals will feel they do not have the freedom to ask questions. They will even start to act against their better judgement and loose their uniqueness,

This is actually scary for me, because as a church leader I often emphasize the importance of coherence. Unity, is after all a Biblical command.

The problem with groupthink is that there is a loss of creativity. And in a world where we desperately need creativity to solve the problems face, the loss of critical thinking is the last thing we can afford.

A further problem of groupthink is that the group does not realize the phenomenon’s presence, until it is too late. The group will typically have an inflated sense of their own abilities, knowledge, behavior or products. This is called the “illusion of invulnerability“.

Not only does groupthink lead the “in-group” to underrate the “out-group“, but it can even cause the “in-group” to demonize the “out-group“, resulting in the acceptance of actions against people that would otherwise be frowned upon.

I have seen groupthink at play in the Church arena on numerous occasions. In fact, I think it is bigger threat than the lack of cohesion. Groupthink – “the way things are done around here” – is what holds many a congregation back from meaningful change.

So, without diminishing the value of group cohesion, let us be aware of the danger of groupthink. I’d say that as leaders, we ought to constantly ask ourselves what group dynamic is present in our context.

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Ask yourself if your group is currently more prone to cohesion or to groupthink. Whatever your answer might be, work towards the other…

Have you ever noticed that in your team there will always be someone who is a “dreamer of what could be” – and another who is the “critic”?

When studying group dynamics, one of the interesting factors at play in teams, is that team members tend to identify with a specific role in the team.

When you are aware of this fact, you can use it to the team’s advantage. If there is for instance a specific project at hand as well as an evaluation that still needs to be done, different team members bring different skills to the table. A good leader will utilize the skill set of the team as a whole.

In the 1980’s, Meredith Belbin developed a behavioral test called the Belbin Self-Perception Inventory. He identified 9 roles that people would typically have a preference for.

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Credit: http://www.leadershipsolutions.co.nz/images/TAP.jpg

The nine roles can be divided into three groups of people: Action oriented people, people oriented people and cognitive oriented people. Knowing which team member has a preference for which role, not only maximizes the team’s output, but also helps when you need to guide change. You can even anticipate disputes in the team, each team member not only has a specific strength but also an typical expected weakness.

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Credit: http://newaccra.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/belbin-team-roles.jpg

 

You’ve probably experienced the same frustration: You struggle to delegate tasks – and when you do delegate, you struggle to maintain meaningful contact with the people you have delegated to.

I realized this problem in my own setup, when I was confronted with the same story over and over again. Either people were frustrated with not having enough responsibility, or they were complaining about not having enough contact for guidance. It felt for them as if we gave responsibility without ever following up or encouraging again.

It is as if I am in a constant struggle between two opposite ends of an evil pendulum.

That was until I became aware of Hersey-Blanchard’s contingency model – or situational leadership. They have produced a workable model where you neither have to be an Authoritarian leader that micro manage people, or follow a Laissez-faire “hands off” style. The situation (both the task and the people involved) literally predicts what leadership style will be most suitable. Their graph effectively maps what is needed.

To understand the graph, you actually need to read it backwards – or from right to left. On the X-axis you have the amount of guidance you will need to give. The Y-axis shows the support that the person needs from you. Obviously, the more guidance is needed, the more authoritarian you need to be. The higher the support, the more democratic you need to be.

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In the S1 quadrant, your guidance needs to be high. The follower is unable to do the task as you would like it to be done, and probably even unwilling. The decision style that is best suited for this scenario is authoritarian.

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In the S2 quadrant, the follower is now perhaps more willing but still unable to do the task efficiently. High directive and high support is needed from your side. The relationship will take the form of a Continue Reading…

Anyone who has ever worked in a team, will testify to the fact that although team members may stay the same, team dynamics will always change.

Bruce Tuckman actually identified this phenomenon already back in 1965, and it has since become known as “Tuckman’s 5 phase group development model“. According to Tuckman the 5 phases that are inevitable for a team to go through, are:

  • Forming: Team members get acquainted with each other.
  • Storming: Role definition and expectations are worked out
  • Norming: Clear expectations, consensus and responsibility takes form.
  • Performing: Focus and goal achievement
  • Adjourning/Reforming: Task completion.

If one would portray it visually, it would look something like this:

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So, what concerns me is the part that comes after “Reforming“. The performance curve can either drop or raise at this point. And this is why the reforming phase is such an important phase.

I find myself in precisely in that phase right now. I joined a congregation – and hence new team – in 2014. Once the “forming” phase and role definition was done, the “norming” and “performing” started. We have enjoyed several successes in a relatively short period of time.

But our one colleague – and as luck would have it, our team leader – retires this year. This means the role definition of the entire team changes once again. What’s more, is that we relied heavily on his wisdom. We will surely feel his absence.

But now the fate of the curve, rests squarely on our shoulders. The science of group dynamics says that it is impossible to stay unchanged on the plateau. The curve will either drop or raise.

This is a sober, terrifying and humbling awareness. As colleagues we need to reform and “re-invent” our team in order to raise the curve. That’s a tall order. I trust that the Lord will guide us in our endeavors. I am unashamedly and utterly dependent upon Him. Your prayers will be much appreciated.

I recently stumbled upon a talk by Mike Pilavachi regarding the circle, ministry takes us all on. It was actually thought provoking as he described the life cycle of a leader…

  • Phase 1 Survival
  • Phase 2 Success
  • Phase 3 Significance
  • Phase 4 Self-satisfaction
  • Phase 5 Self-indulgence
  • Phase 6 Self-deceived
  • Phase 7 Self-destruction
  • Phase 8 Survival

According to Mike, if you want to break the cycle, you need to do it time and again in the third stage. You need to “re-invent” what you do, while you are in the significance phase. This will keep you sharp, creative and, well … humble.