Leaders are most vulnerable when they are introducing change. And guess what leaders spend most of their time doing? That’s right … introducing change! It’s no wonder leadership can be intimidating.
There are a few predictable problems that often stall out, short circuit or completely crush many of our best ideas for improvement. Once you see them, you’ll probably recognize them. If you want your next change effort to succeed, pay attention these three common pitfalls:
1. You don’t know what problem you’re solving.
I’ve messed this one up so many times. The problem with being the point leader for any organization is that you know way too much about what is going on. It’s called the curse of knowledge. You are so intimately acquainted with the issues that you don’t know what it’s like to be ignorant of the problem. You don’t know how to articulate the problem because you haven’t lived in the customer’s shoes for a while. You assume that the problem is obvious to everyone, but it’s not. They only see the results of the problem, and they may not even realize there is a problem. Remember, humans are drawn to the status quo. So unless they feel, see and experience the problem like you do, they will have zero motivation to solve it.
Our church’s journey to multi-site took a long time because of this. I knew in my heart that unless we planted a ministry presence closer to the city, we would never expand our overall reach and we would be capped in our effectiveness as a church. That was an outcome I was not willing to accept. But I had trouble defining the problem in a way that others could understand—let alone sacrifice for. We eventually eked our way through, and now we have multi-site in our DNA. But in hindsight we could have gone so much faster if I would have taken the time to clarify the problem we were trying to solve.
The bottom line is, unless you can create an urgent need for people to help solve a crystal clear problem, your change effort is likely to stall out.
2. You haven’t done your homework.
Recently I performed yet another bonehead stunt at my church. We had just resurfaced the parking lot at one of our campuses and we were having some trouble with speeding cars cutting through to the neighboring coffee shop. We want to be kind and all, but it’s not an expressway. So we decided to install some speed bumps. We hired a company, commissioned the work and voila … we had speed bumps. But these suckers were ginormous. In an effort to defend our decision I decided to drive my VW through the parking lot to prove that it was going to be just fine. But it wasn’t. My car bottomed out, as did every other car that came to church the following Sunday. I swear one guy almost broke his neck when his head hit the roof of his truck.
What we had on our hands was a potential momentum problem. If people can’t get their cars in the parking lot, well … you know the rest.
Why did this happen? Because I didn’t realize there was more than one size of speed bump, and I didn’t bother to do any homework on it. Thankfully for us, we got them removed right away and we reinstalled a less violent version. All is well. But that was a close one, I promise you, on all future projects our team is going to pause to do a little homework.
3. You haven’t worked the circles.
Once again, I am speaking from my failures here. These lessons are so vivid to me because learning them was so painful.
The idea of “working the circles” could be compared to the game of leapfrog. And if you’re in ministry at a church, this happens all the time. We leap over one circle of people in order to get to the next, bigger circle. For instance, we get in a room with an executive team and come up with a great plan for changing the world. Then we step up on stage and announce it on a Sunday to all the attenders. It sounds ridiculous, but it is so common. What we miss is taking it to the elders, to the staff, to the leaders, to the members and then taking it to the entire church. My friend Marc Estes from City Bible Church in Portland, Oregon, taught me to “park it in a circle until everybody gets it.” Only then are we ready to move on.
The problem with this idea is patience. And I have a patience deficiency. Somehow I don’t naturally see that if we are going to move faster, we have to process more fully in each circle.
One of my mentors, Steve Stroope of Lakepointe Church in Dallas, Texas, has a great practice that illustrates the power of this principle. In every monthly elder meeting, he reviews the staffing changes that have happened in their organization with the elders. That way, they are aware of the relational dynamics in the church when things come up. This relieves so much potential tension ahead of time, and honors the elders as an important “circle” in the church. Though Steve has the authority to hire and dismiss, his communication to the elders helps them to feel involved. As they say, “People are down on what they’re not up on.”
My hope is that you’ll take these lessons to heart, strengthen your leadership and succeed wildly in your efforts.
Gabe Kolstad is the lead pastor of Westside Community Church in Beaverton, Oregon, a certified trainer with Church Leader Insights and an advanced coaching expert with Nelson Searcy. This article was originally published on GabeKolstad.com.