Leading From Beneath

The fine art of challenging organization decay—without compromising your integrity

In my previous column we discussed the need to challenge the process. Successful leaders learn how to alienate a process without alienating the people who created it—or the people who work it faithfully every day. Now, we will explore five ways you can develop the art of challenging the process without inadvertently issuing a challenge to the people in your organization.

1. When an instruction is given, follow through now; debrief later. When the discussion's over and the one God has placed in authority over you says, "This is what we're gonna do," then you do it. Follow through first, and debrief later. Your words and actions need to express, "I am clearly and squarely on your team and under your authority." It doesn't mean you can't ask, "Why?" But do so in the clear context of serving the organization at large and observing the chain-of-command. In your own style and your own way, you must learn to communicate both: "I am under your authority," and "Can we talk about it?"

2. Never verbalize your frustration with the process in front of other team members. Public loyalty results in private leverage. If you want to have leverage one-on-one with your authorities, then show support for their ideas and strategies in front of the team—even if you think they're absolutely off the wall. Likewise, if you want to lose leverage with your boss, then disrupt and ask challenging questions and foster division among the ranks publicly.

Support publicly; challenge privately. Reverse those two things and you surrender your authority as a leader within your organization. Again, it's OK to think different—to challenge. But the method you use and the place you choose is critical. Everybody who has authority is also under authority.

3. Don't confuse your insights with moral imperatives. Even if you're sure you've been given a superior view of the world, that doesn't mean it's a moral imperative that everyone execute your plan. There's something more important than doing ministry the most relevant, cool and effective way. God is interested in seeing us learn to live and lead under the authority that He has placed over us. You have not sinned by doing ministry ineffectively. You have not sinned by simply taking the marching orders from somebody who's not as smart as you and doing things that aren't as effective as you would like to have done them.

There's a temptation to justify flat-out rebellion for the sake of the mission and the cause. God is using you not only to do your current ministry, but also to prepare you for whatever else He has for you. Even if you never see your ideas implemented, you've had a good day as a leader when you've done everything you can to challenge while staying under the authority that God has placed over you.

4. If you don't learn to lead under, you won't have as many opportunities to lead over. Your ability to lead others is directly related to your ability to follow others. Since God is the giver and the head of all authority, all people in an organization's chain of command—leaders and followers—must ultimately answer to God. So when you sign up to participate in authority, you automatically ascribe to the concept of following. As a result, your ability to lead will never far exceed your ability to follow.

One of my favorite stories in the life of Jesus is His encounter with a centurion whose servant was sick. The centurion didn't approach Jesus saying, "Jesus, clearly You're in charge, clearly You are in authority—therefore, would You come heal my servant who's sick?" Instead, he notices that Jesus is "a man under authority." And based on that observation, he considers Jesus qualified to invoke healing power on his sick servant. Every authority is under authority. As leaders, we must challenge the process, but we must also work with the authorities that God has placed over us. And we dare not upset His plan for us by rebelling against the ones God has placed over us—whether intentionally or unintentionally.

5. When you can't follow, then it's time to get off the team. The question young leaders ask me more than any other question is, "How do I know when it's time to go?" There's no simple answer to that question. But one of the catalysts for moving on is when staying in your current environment ceases to be a growing experience and starts to become a dying experience. When that time comes, it's time to go.

If you start to have those feelings, ask yourself if God might be prompting you to move on. There comes a time to get off the team. And if you aren't listening carefully, you could expose yourself and others to temptations you'd rather avoid. Don't give opportunity for frustration or anger to lead you. Allow God to lead you in His time to do whatever else He has for you.

Andy Stanley is a best-selling author and the senior pastor of one of the fastest-growing churches in the country, North Point Community Church in suburban Atlanta. Check out Next Generation Leader (Multnomah) for more on his leadership insights. This column reprinted from the Catalyst GroupZine. Copyright 2006 by INJOY and Nelson Impact (www.catalystgroupzine.com).

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