While leadership is many things, vision casting, team building, strategic thinking, developing leaders, leadership can also be boiled down to one very important thing: decision making.
Now to be fair, all people, bosses, employees, volunteers, and pastors, make decisions in a church or organization. But one thing sets leaders apart: they make decisions others don’t.
Leaders are the ones who are faced with making decisions that will be unpopular, that will decide what is right and wrong in a church or organization, and that will affect others.
Here are a few:
1. Vision decisions. It is the job of a leader to cast vision, to set direction for a preferred future. This is best done in teams, with the buy in of key leaders, but there are also times when a leader must say, “This is it; that is not it.” Vision divides, vision clarifies. Vision also unites. Vision says, “We’re going here, not there.” Vision says what the win is, which also means vision says what the loss is.
These can run up against “what has always been done”, what used to work, and sometimes what is still working but isn’t what needs to be done.
Vision also decides how resources are allocated, what money is spent on, what staff and volunteers are needed and not needed. This can be incredibly difficult.
Many people in leadership roles simply skip this. They don’t push to make a clarifying decision, which is still making a decision, but it is the one of least resistance.
2. Being willing to be unpopular. Ronald Heifetz says, “Exercising leadership might be best understood as disappointing people at a rate they can absorb.” This also means that as a leader, you must be willing to be unpopular with someone at some point. Now as a leader you don’t set out to make people mad or be a jerk (although some do), but sometimes that happens. It should never be a goal, though.
This means that to be a leader you must develop tough skin. You must develop clarity as to who you are, who you aren’t, where you want to go and where you don’t want to go. You must know which hills you will choose to die on, because you will die on those hills. Not every hill is worth dying on, but you must know which ones are.
3. Decisions that affect others. The last thing that separates leaders is that they are willing to make decisions that affect not only themselves but others. These are the decisions that keep me up at night. Ones about hiring or firing, setting salaries, making budget decisions that will have an impact not only on the financial situation of someone else, but also their happiness if we stop doing something as a church that they love.
These are incredibly difficult, and too many pastors are unwilling to make these calls. They aren’t easy, but being a leader isn’t supposed to be easy.
These decisions, when taken together, are some of the things that make someone a leader. Are they willing to make decisions others are not willing to make?