The Seven Deadly Sins of Leadership

Can the right hand learn from the left hand how to use one of its greatest resources?

God’s right-hand kingdom, Martin Luther said, is the kingdom of grace and the Gospel, in which we are given his undeserved love and forgiveness. God’s left-hand kingdom, Luther continues, is the kingdom of this world, governed by law and earthly principles, with civic–and natural–consequences when laws are broken. Luther emphasized that God rules both these kingdoms.

The church, God’s gathered people, is the embodiment and the proclaimer of the kingdom of grace. Only God’s grace in Jesus Christ can solve the basic problem of every person, separation from God due to our sin.

But the church also exists in, and is part of, the left hand kingdom. Our programs and activities, our planning and leadership structure, while used to proclaim grace, are influenced by the world around us, as they should be. We are not of the world, but we are in it. And it is God’s world.

“The Seven Deadly Sins of Leadership,” an online article (no longer available; –KK Nov. 2014) from a company that sells human resources products to businesses, contains left-hand kingdom truth from which the church can learn. Their ‘sins’ are lists mistakes leaders make that hurt their businesses. Interestingly, 5 of them have to do with the relationship of the company and its managers to the employees. Reflect on these excerpts from a right-hand perspective, thinking of the church’s primary workforce–its volunteers.

Deadly sins of leadership:

  1. Assuming your employees know the company’s objectives and purpose. Even the best plan is worthless unless it is understood and embraced at all levels. Your workforce is the engine that powers your plan.

    Do your volunteers know the church’s purpose? Can they verbalize it to people they serve? Do they see the connection between what they’re doing in ministry and the church’s purpose?

  2. Approaching selection and hiring in a haphazard manner. Best case scenario — 14 percent of the time you will get a good employee. Worst case scenario — most of the time you will get a less-than-stellar worker . . . Good hiring practices at all levels improve overall performance . . .

    The church doesn’t hire, and it certainly doesn’t turn away willing workers. But do people get ‘placed’ in a haphazard manner? Do volunteers sometimes take a position primarily out of a sincere desire to serve, with little regard for matching their gifts to the position? How often do we personally help people find that right match of gifts and position?

  3. Assuming your people are trained. Failing to develop your people’s talents through appropriate training is a massive waste of resources. Many companies spend more time and money negotiating and paying for maintenance contracts on their equipment than they do training their staff.

    Do we train people for their tasks at church? Do we intentionally develop their talents? How many of our people have talents that are under-used or unused in their employment? Perhaps the Lord gave them those talents for his work in the church. Do we try to seek those talents out?

  4. Failing to provide appropriate feedback. Fear of conflict can cause leaders to avoid mentioning unacceptable behavior or requiring accountability. Whether through performance reviews or conversations during the course of daily activities, meaningful, constructive feedback is necessary to produce good performance.

    Where two or three are gathered, there will be conflict. We let domineering people have their way for fear of offending them. We ignore ongoing conflict in hopes it will go away. We rightly want to avoid causing anyone to leave the church, but we therefore avoid our responsibility to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We all need constructive feedback, especially when we don’t want it.

  5. Treating employees as a commodity. Any company who has experienced the high cost of employee turnover understands its toll: replacement costs, loss of productivity and decreased morale. Treat employees like a commodity and they will respond in kind — by leaving you as soon as possible for the next best offer.

    We’ve all seen burned out volunteers. Some of them leave for another church, vowing never to volunteer again. Others continue to work, but with weariness instead of joy. Have you ever encouraged a good worker to cut back in order to get more rest or meet their other responsibilities? Or is their work more important than they are?

Jesus Christ, coming to us in Word and Sacrament, is the church’s joy and its greatest asset. But the people God gathers in his church may well be its next greatest asset. Called by him and gifted by him, we are his people, serving him within and beyond the church walls. It’s not an easy task. Let’s work together to help each other serve, and in so doing, help the church more effectively bring the kingdom of grace to those who so desperately need it.

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