Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When the Mess is Of Your Own Creation

I've been talking for a while now on the topic Community is Messy. Usually, I share examples from the vantage point of a third-party observer of a mess, a consultant in the navigation of a mess, or the victim of a mess. But what do you do when you-- the leader-- are the originator, creator, and mastermind of the mess?

I found myself in that very situation last week.

Short story-- we included a humorous bit (well, we thought it was funny) in a leadership summit last weekend that offended some folks. Including some folks on our staff team. The details of the scenario are really not important, but I thought I would share a bit on how I handled it. Or at least on how I wish I had handled it. Okay, let's just say these are some lessons I am learning about how better to lead and serve in the midst of a mess of my own creation.

1. Affirm the relationships. Relationships are more important than anything else. More important that vision, more important than strategies, more important than being right. If you've got a leader with a complaint-- no matter how valid you think it is or isn't-- make sure to validate and affirm the relationship.

2. Seek counsel. I spent close to 48 hours doing little more than seeking counsel. As a high "thinker" on the Meyers- Briggs personality profile, I actively sought out feelers and others who could help me sort through the logic and the emotions surrounding the mess.

3. Recognize your blind spots. Will Johnston summed up what both he and I felt at one point, "Enough people that I respect are offended that I am pretty sure I am wrong...I just don't know why." Listen to the people around you. It's quite possible you have a blind spot. Let me re-state that, it's absolutely probable you have a blind spot.

4. Be honest. Be humble. I felt like it was important for me to be very honest with my reaction-- I didn't just roll over and wave the white flag of surrender. I stood my ground. But I also tried very hard to be humble-- to say, "this is what I think; help me understand a different perspective."

5. Own it. Somehow, I was immune to the initial criticism. It was all leveraged against my teammates because they were the implementers and the ones on the platform. But the reality was that they were simply executing my vision. I had to own it. And even if it was all my team's fault, I'm still the leader. I've got to own it. Own your own mess.

6. Keep a good sense of humor. I tried to acknowledge from the very beginning that "one day we will laugh about this." And we were laughing about it before the day was over. Not in a flippant or arrogant or dismissive kind of way-- in a self-depricating, we are not going to take ourselves too seriously kind of way.

7. Look for the growth goals and the leadership lessons. One of my biggest goals throughout the process was to find the personal growth goals and the leadership lessons available. Whether it was how to communicate better with our team, how to better discern appropriate content, how to anticipate reactions, how to be sensitive to differences of opinion, etc. Whenever you are in the midst of a mess, ask yourself, "How do we all grow from this?" and "How does God want to get glory from this?"

8. Take care of your team. My primary focus on the first few days of processing was to make sure that my Team D was okay. Some of them are relatively new to leadership and to ministry, and I wanted to affirm them. I asked lots of questions that day about their feelings, their thoughts, their opinions, and their ideas on next steps.

9. Strive for good conversation, not final resolution. At the end of the day, I'm not sure any of us found a perfect point of resolution. This may be one of those areas that we won't find a place of perfect agreement on for a number of years. Maybe I need to mature a good bit before I see every dimension of my error. Or perhaps this is just one of those things where good people who love Jesus will have to agree to disagree. What we must do is preserve an environment of open, honest communication. And as leaders, we must embrace the idea that the tension is good and resolution is not necessarily the end goal.

10. Keep failing. That might be the wrong way to say it. Because failing should never be the goal. But experimenting, trying new things, pushing the envelope, and innovating should be the goals. And that means messes. New discoveries are never made without failures. I think it's healthy for us to realize that we will continue to make messes. The goal is not to keep a clean lab. But to ensure that any messes we make are cleaned appropriately and that progress is made as a result. If we are going to be the kind of leaders that make change happen, then we can be confident that we will make some colossal messes along the way.

I'm sure there is much more I could say...stay tuned for the next mess of my own creation. I'm sure it's not too far in the future.


At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Mark Cowsert said...

This is why I think that you are one of the top leaders in the church today...I am so grateful for your honesty and that you really practice what you preach...I am 46 years old and continue to learn from my messes...would hope that I wouldn't create any...but then how would God show up for me and teach me and help me to grow...don't get me wrong...not looking to create any...the pain is you said, you often look back and laugh and go...THANKS GOD! Thanks Heather for being you!

Mark Cowsert
Community Pastor
the River

At 7:53 PM, Blogger Ray Hollenbach said...

Thanks for this post, Heather. You combine the ideals of Christian reconciliation with the practical steps necessary to get there. Blessings to you and your ministry in the District.

At 12:34 PM, Blogger Jana said...

I don't know what happened, but I am so impressed with the way you processed the situation. This is highly respectable.


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