Thursday, April 26, 2007

Loyalty to Staff

The Attorney General's testimony before Congress was painful to listen to. I was driving that day and listened to long portions on NPR. The questions from both Republican and Democrat were tough to the point of brutal. His answers were defensive and less-than-convincing to me. At the end of the day, I listened to the "analysts" describe next-outcomes. Most agreed that he performed poorly and should probably resign, but, it all depended on the President. He serves at the will of the President. For the next several days, the official word from the White House was approval of the Attorney General's answers and satisfaction with his performance. The President loyally supports his staff. That quality is a hall-mark of the Bush administration: loyalty.
The question I've been mulling over is when is staff loyalty a good thing and when is it a bad thing? When does leadership loyalty within a staff build cohesion and strength? And when is it a sign of a leadership out of touch with the reality on the ground?
I've done it both ways. In former churches I have had members bring withering criticisms to me about their satisfaction with staff member's performance. Normally one strident voice is just that, one strident voice that needs to be listened to and directed into a healthy conversation with the affected staff member. It is too easy to get triangulated between an angry member who tells you their problem, but does not allow you to go to the concerned staff person with the issue and their name attached to it. It is different, however, when the numbers of members who disapprove of a staff person grows and their logic has weight. Maybe a staff person is burning out. Maybe they just do not have the vision or skills to take their ministry area where it needs to go. Maybe their interpersonal style has, over time, burned too many bridges.
In those times, I think healthy leadership gets on the front end and guides staff members to see that their time of effectiveness is over and that they need to take moves to find something else. Our President reluctantly did that with UN Ambassador Bolton, though not without some pique. We, as pastors and staff leaders, need to always have loyalty to the staff God allows us to work with a top priority. Church staffs need to know that they are not cannon fodder to protect the senior pastor, nor human shields to take criticisms off the "boss." Insead, they deserve to know clearly and lovingly how they are doing. I think the same process needs to be in place bewteen a solo or senior pastor and his/her governing board. That's why I have always had in place a standing Personell Realtions Committee that meets (optimally) quarterly to talk about the climate, direction and issues within the congregation. That way, most crises can be resolved before they heat up and get out of hand.


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