Every person who is placed in a position of leadership desires to see their area find the order, commitment and enthusiasm that will cause it to flourish. In an attempt to see that happen, leaders often fall into a trap that seems good when it is first set in place. However, after months or even years of attempted development, things may or may not be better off, and to the frustration of the leader, the same issues are usually still showing up.
If you feel this is the case in your life, I want you to consider something. I was sitting quietly before God and praying for the people and things in the Church that I love. As I sat there something very specific rose up inside me and I realized that I had never thought of things quite like this before. It jumped within me with such strength that I knew it was God providing me with some much-needed insight. Below is the overview of what that encounter was. I hope you enjoy it!
Leaders are often encouraged to provide a set of rules or guidelines to bring order to their department. These are written out on paper so that each member in the team knows what the boundary lines are. They know what is expected of them and they also know what will happen if they don’t meet the minimum standards that have been established. The result is that over time, those on the team figure out just how much “wiggle room” there is when they can’t meet that standard. Eventually, everyone discovers what the real balance point is between the rules and the failure to meet them. This is called reaching the place of “equilibrium”.
What is the outcome of reaching this point? Well, to begin with, leaders who adhere to the rules will become legalistic. That is, they will constantly be confronting team members about the importance of meeting the “standard” and most team members will submit to that form of leadership. However, in their striving to not break the rules they eventually become tired and the moral of the team drops off, even though the team in general has come up a few steps. Basically, legalism brings the performance up but it drags the moral, the vision and the energy of the team down. In the end this is counter-productive and any gains do not last for long.
Leaders who are not legalistic will discover they constantly have to make exceptions for certain team members. These leaders will soon feel as if they are being taken advantage of. In time, as the inconsistencies continue, they will be viewed as weak and that the standards that were set really are not standards at all. Over time it becomes clear that certain members never seem to connect the dots or get their act together. This constant stream of failures and irritations rises up between them, other team members and the leadership. Worse that that, these team members often feel a wavering degree of commitment and when they are present, they bring no genuine sense of purpose or improvement to the team. This ultimately translates into a painful lack of team unity and a breakdown of personal trust.
Biblical leaders, those who have God’s heart, are not rule makers, yet they do have well defined guidelines and clear standards. They are not list makers or legalists, but they do provide consistent guidance where and when it is needed. They bring order and growth to their place of responsibility by providing vision and instilling principles into the team rather than rules that need to be monitored and discipline that needs to be administered. This kind of leadership opens the environment of the team so that people automatically want to work together and they really see the importance of their part.
This happens because principles are never just something to be taught. They are a way of living that is embraced. They become part of the fabric of life within people and are demonstrated through a lifestyle, which shows up in all they do. Vision may set the goal for the standard of excellence that the leader desires to achieve, but principles allow team members to achieve them. Through principles, the vision is constantly promoted and lived out, and team members find encouragement and personal fulfillment when they move into it.
Principles become a part of the team member’s life rather than a rule they must meet. They change the heart perspective and that manifests in a lifestyle that naturally demonstrates the desired excellence. When we are able to instill principles into a team, the rules become a secondary issue. This is because the vision for excellence starts to flourish and grow on it’s own and the standard of excellence is automatically embraced within every team member.
Of the two styles of leadership mentioned above where do you fit and how do the members of your team see you? Are you an irritated rule maker that has to police your department because people don’t care and don’t measure up? Are you a frustrate rule bender who feels forced to make exceptions in order to keep things in place and maintain the progress you have made?
Perhaps it is time to consider instilling principles within the hearts of those you lead rather than enforcing the rules to control their behavior. Principles are inside, guiding beliefs that encourage us to move towards higher ground. Rules are an outside force, a burden that measures our performance and monitors our failures. The first encourages us to excel and it adds our strength to the strength of the team. The second demands us to conform and it allows us to participate so we can maintain our place and team performance. One builds with the backing of people the other builds on the backs of people.
When all is said and done, the power of principles is the key that unlocks the best in everyone. Why not take a good hard look right now at how you have been leading. It could be that your frustrations and irritations are only symptoms of what your leadership style is. Begin to lead from principles and you may be shocked at the change that happens all around you. In the end it’s our principles that build what is lasting. This is because rules can build an organization, but only principles can build a life. Which would you rather build?