Leadership: Getting the Balance Right

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things is to be assigned a task and then to either be told every step of the way exactly how to do it or alternatively to be given no indication of how well you have done. I heard it said recently that leaders need to get the balance right in delegating authority and accountability. I have seen and been a part of situations where the balance has been out of kilt and I'm sure you will be able to identify similar situations.

Accountability With No Authority
Quite simply this imbalance can be summarised in one word - micromanaging. Personally I find is to be the most frustrating and disempowering way to be managed. In simple terms this occurs when the leader assigns a task and then insists on checking every minute detail along the way. The one given the task is not given any authority to make any decisions that matter but rather is placed in a situation where all they are doing is simply completing the task exactly how the manager wants it to be done.

Creativity and imagination are squashed. Risk-taking is eliminated. The status quo is maintained. The result is that things are done as they have always been done regardless of whether that is the best possible solution. It also means that the organisation is not getting the best from everyone, because the manager, rather than utilising the potential of their employee, assumes that their way is the best way every single time.

Authority With No Accountability
This imbalance sways in the other direction. The one assigned the task is given free rein to do whatever they want to do, without consequences. Certainly in this situation creativity, imagination, risk-taking are freely used, but without accountability the results can be disastrous. This is a breeding ground for "lone rangers" and "power junkies". The assigned task belongs wholly and solely to the one whom it is given to but the connection with the wider purposes of the movement are lost.

Oftentimes, in the church, such "authority with no accountability" comes under the guise of "God has given me a vision". Left untested such prophetic utterances can have disastrous effects on budgets, interpersonal relationships, and indeed can cause rifts within congregations.

I'm sure you can think of many examples where the above has occurred; dare I mention "Enron," "News of the World" or recent accounts of rogue traders losing billions of other people's money.

Getting the Balance Right
It is essential, therefore, that we seek to get the balance right between "authority" and "accountability". This is, I think, even more important in the church than outside of it. It is simply not good enough to claim some version of “ministerial infallibility”, either implicitly or explicitly, by virtue of one's position within the church. The results of that throughout church history have proved disastrous. Rather, greater authority demands greater accountability. At the same time, though, greater accountabilities must be accompanied by greater authority if the church is to move forward in the 21st century. The reality is that the world is changing at an ever increasing pace. Unless leaders are prepared to give those in their care the opportunity to be creative, to make key decisions, to think of new ways to do things, movements within the church will simply not survive. Please note here, that I firmly believe that God will achieve his kingdom purposes, but if we want to be a part of it we need to utilise all of the gifts he’s given to all of his people with appropriate authority and accountability at every stage.

Accountabilities in the church could easily reflect existing performance management systems used in human resource management models. Quite simply, leaders within the church need to be given the opportunity to celebrate successes, identify failures and most importantly learn from both. Therefore it is essential that a proactive performance management system exists at every level of leadership. It needs to become normative, whether that's for leaders of many years experience or those at a local church level.

It is obvious that we will not always get this balance right and I for one am guilty of both of the "leadership sins" that I’ve identified above. But isn't that the point? Isn't an essential part of this balance to be that I, as an Officer in the Salvation Army, and minister of the Christian Gospel, must exemplify what it means to say "I got it wrong, show me how I can do it better?"


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