“If you believe lack of authority prevents you from leading effectively, it is time to rethink your understanding of leadership.”
— Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson
Most ministry leaders are following someone. We all have leaders in authority “over” us. I’ve spent most of my ministry career responding to other leaders and their direction for the ministries that we’re working in. Below are some strategies that I’ve tried to employ over the years to gain more influence with my leaders and ultimately help me to lead them. Leading “up” is a delicate and fragile dance but it’s a part of what your leaders are asking you to do … they want you to earn influence and make a difference in your church!
- Ask Insightful Questions // In your efforts to be useful to your church there can be a temptation to be the “answerer” … resist this temptation. People who ask penetrating questions that steer the conversation are valuable to any organization. Practice active listening and then construct your questions to help guide the conversation to new insights. Often leaders are stuck with binary answers to questions … help your supervisors to see “third options”.
- Enable Learning // By definition you have a more detailed understanding of what’s happening in your area than the people who are leading you. You are “closer to the action” by the nature of your seat on the bus. Use this position to help your supervisor learn about the critical factors impacting your ministry. Suggest resources like books, podcasts or conferences to help keep them up to speed on the latest thinking and understanding in your ministry. This is particularly true when you are led by a volunteer board … you need to take an active role in helping them understand the dynamics of leading a church because their day to day reality is so very different.
- Public Loyalty Breeds Private Influence // Be unwavering in your support for your supervisor(s) in public. Reference their leadership in your life and ministry. This loyalty will increase your influence down the road because it builds trust with them.
- Present Solutions … Don’t Point out Problems // Leaders see lots of things they’d like to fix in your church. They know that there are a lot of things that need improvement. Don’t be a person that just points out problems without any solutions. If you do need to make your leadership aware of a problem … make sure you that when you outline the issue you also come with a potential solution or two.
- Understand What’s Important to Them // What is it that your leadership wants to see happen at your church? Do you have a clear sense of how they want to see the mission to unfold? Align your work and effort to what’s important to your leadership. If you don’t understand what’s important … ask! Take time to get clarity on the desired future and then work towards delivering that. (Side note … even if some of the desired future isn’t directly in your area of responsibility you should aid the effort to see it come true … your leaders won’t stop you from doing that!)
- Have Your Junk Together When You Talk // Leaders self perceive that they are very busy and so you need to leverage your time with them effectively. Make sure you’re organized every time you meet with them. Write out what you want to discuss in a one page document … have the data you need to help the conversation. Don’t waste your leaders time … if aren’t prepared for the conversation than reschedule. The Boy Scouts were right … Be Prepared!
- Do Stuff Other People Won’t // There are things in your church that other members of the team won’t do … do those things. Look for those projects that other people see to shy away from and lean in on them. Be a problem solver.
- Invest in Your Leadership Development // One of the best things you can do to gain more influence with your leaders is to develop your own leadership. Invest in training that helps you grow as a leader and a person. Read more. Listen to podcasts. Take an online course or two. Your supervisor(s) will notice this investment and it will increase your scope.