Leadership Lessons from James McDonald

1) People will be as they have been not as they say they want to be.
I should have spent a lot more time chasing down references prior to hiring.  Most pastors are pretty relational and can quickly become attached to a warm person during the interview process.  Looking back I often got caught up in who the person promised to be and what I hoped they would become.  When I have made a hiring decision I regretted I must sadly admit that the warning signs were all there in the context of where they used to work.  I am a lot more reluctant to blame a persons previous employment frustrations on their boss and much less likely to believe they will be different here than they have been elsewhere.  That’s not cynicism, it’s just experience.  Check as many references as possible and believe the people who say the hard things, not the references that smooth over whatever problems there were.

2) People who are resistant to management are mainly just resistant to work.
I wish I could count the number of times I got talked out of a measurable goal structure through an articulate argument from a specific staff member who claimed they could do far more work with far less structure.  Not one time did that ever work out.  People who resent goals resist work.  People who don’t want to account for what they are doing, don’t do very much.  People who believe that accountability stifles creativity eventually prove that lack of accountability stifles effort.  I am sure there have been some exceptions to this rule in my experience but I don’t remember them.

3) People with personal agendas will eventually betray the common mission.
The youth pastor who claims to love youth but insists on release time to train other youth leaders around the country has already had his best days of local church ministry to students.  Worship leaders that want to be recording artists need to go do that or at least admit that local church ministry is just a temporary necessity until their real passion becomes a full time gig.  People who say they want to be on a staff forever and have no desire to pastor their own church will not feel like that forever.  There is nothing wrong with people who want to do other things I just wish I had understood a lot earlier that competing agendas will always compete.  If you choose to live with that fine; but I have had better success working with staff that had the mission of the church as their only agenda.

4) If it’s not working, it’s not going to work and needs to end.
I must confess that I have often over estimated my ability to change the behavior of others.  When we have occasionally made a ‘bad hire’ we have never been able to turn it into a good one.  If it’s bad now it will be worse in six months no matter what you do to change it.  Better to execute on the hard decision once it becomes clear than to press for change in a way that causes the relationship to end badly instead of simply ending.  Be clear and concise and generous in your terms of separation, but when the decision is clear don’t delay in making it.

5) Never Stop Believing in Your Staff.
Richard Strauss, the great bible teacher from Escondido, California, said this at a conference I attended as a young man; “Your staff are your greatest joy and your greatest heart ache.”  I could not agree more.  The pain of the few hires that don’t go well can easily eclipse the joy of the majority that do!  I have had to work hard at continuing to trust and make myself vulnerable to new staff when the disappointment of past employees is echoing in the hall way.  I have found that Senior Pastors feel this more acutely than the rest of the staff who seem a lot more resilient and able to move on after a painful transition.  After 20 years in one church, the highest highs and the lowest lows have involved staff people.  I am blessed to work with some of the most fruitful and tireless servants of Christ on this planet.  Keeping that blessing in view brings healing from the past and hope for the future in serving Christ together.

You can read the full blog at http:blog.harvestbiblefellowship.org

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