4 Questions That Can Prevent Your “Leadership Autopsy”

I didn’t see that coming.  Everything seemed fine at first, well, for awhile, then seemingly out of nowhere we were in conflict and in a few months he was off staff. It didn’t go well at all, it was like a death on staff!”

This is a familiar phone call from pastors, where they tell me about a staff breakdown that went bad. We all understand that not every staff situation works out perfectly no matter how hard we try; but to be blindsided and end in heartache is unnecessary.

The following is a 4-step “autopsy” of sorts to help dissect, analyze and learn how this happens, so you might prevent it before it occurs next time.

Were expectations clear?

A breakdown on staff (or relational breakdown of any kind) most often begins with unclear expectations. Unclear expectations turn into unmet expectations every time. Sometimes this is a result of a vague or sloppy job description. It can also result from a lack of accountability and measurement of accomplishment.

Whatever the cause, it’s important to fight for clear expectations up front. Keep them fresh. Review and agree upon them at least once a year. At 12Stone, we review expectations three times a year as part of our MAP process.

Was communication honest?

It’s a good thing to be kind and loving. However, when Godly virtues potentially erode candid communication, (because we lack honesty), it’s no longer truly kind and loving, and you may be headed for difficulty. It’s just like in marriage, or any relationship, when you are not completely truthful it’s impossible to know and agree on anything from expectations to overall goals and dreams. In the work environment, this includes whether or not performance is up to par.

Were you aligned and headed in the same direction?

(You can begin to see how these questions are connected and build on each other.)

I’ve had the privilege as a pastor to marry many young couples over the years. They always start off enthusiastic and headed in the same direction. Then inevitably “life hits” and depending on what they want from life, and how they mature through difficulties, two possibilities occur:

Either they become stronger and closer, or begin to head in different directions.

It’s always heartbreaking when the couple tells me they just want different things in life. This happens with church staff leaders and key volunteer leaders as well. Now, there is obviously a difference between a marriage and a staff relationship. Sometimes God moves a person to another church and that’s OK! I’m talking about the situations where the problem was unseen, filled with tension and didn’t end well. The point is that for a staff relationship to work, you must both always be headed in the same direction, and wanting the same things.

Was this person able to accomplish the job?

When expectations aren’t clear, communication isn’t honest, and you aren’t headed in the same direction, this will always affect performance. It’s important to ask these two questions:

  1. Can the person do the job?
  2. Will the person do the job?

“Can they” is about competence. “Will they” is about attitude. The person may be able to do the job, but that doesn’t mean they will. The person may be willing to do the job, but that doesn’t mean they can.

It’s impossible to answer those two questions unless you have clear expectations, good communication and you are headed in the same direction.

Ideally, you would want to invest in leadership development and equipping to help them succeed. But that effort is in vain if they are not headed in the same direction or more bluntly, don’t really want the job.

I’ve seen this happen countless times in many churches and inevitably relationships begin to deteriorate, and without attention, it ends poorly.

It’s impossible to cover all the possible variables and nuances in a single post, but the above 4 questions will help you keep an eye on your critically important paid (and volunteer) staff relationships and prevent the necessity of an “autopsy” (What went wrong?) conversation.

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Dan Reiland

Dan Reiland

Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together. Dan is best known as a leader with a pastor's heart, but is often described as one of the nations most innovative church thinkers. His passion is developing leaders for the local church so that the Great Commission is advanced.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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