There are many early warning signs to determine a bad hire. (iStock photo )

Nothing hurts the progress of your church more than a staff member sliding into an unhealthy disposition. The greater the influence this person has, the greater the potential for negative impact.

It's easy for an outsider to armchair quarterback on Monday morning, saying, "Yup, I saw that coming." But the truth is, those of us in the heat of the game don't always see it coming. If we did, we'd do something about it!

We always hire the best and brightest we can find. No one intentionally picks a loser, right? No one selects a non-contributor with a poor attitude. So what happens? What changes?

There is a long list of possibilities for a good hire to go bad. Here are a few:

  • There was no leadership development or coaching for the staff person.
  • The chemistry and culture were not a fit.
  • The staff member did not connect with or embrace the vision.
  • The staff member was struggling with unknown personal issues.
  • The staff member did not have the necessary competence or capacity.
  • Expectations were not made clear.
  • The staff member's attitude went sour.

So what can we do about this? How can we get out in front and recognize the early warning signs of a good staff member starting to head in the wrong direction? The starting point is to know what to look for.

Here are four early warning signs to watch for: 

1. They find problems faster than they find solutions. Anyone can find problems; let's not pay staff for that. Let's pay staff to find and implement solutions. Good leaders do see things that are not working and need improvement, but they are also motivated to deliver several options for a solution, and are capable of making it happen. If a staff member consistently only identifies problems with a borderline critical spirit, this is a serious warning sign.

2. They complain more than they contribute. When a staff member starts complaining more than making a productive contribution, this can quickly become toxic. I'm often surprised at how long senior staff will tolerate this behavior and allow it to continue. When it comes to staff, this one thing is always true: you get what you tolerate.

3. They become disconnected or withdrawn. This behavior manifests itself in a disposition that demonstrates: "I'll just stay in my area, do my job and keep quiet about everything else." That is not healthy and never works for very long. That person's discontent will soon leak.

This warning sign is one of the most dangerous because it's a stealth form of passive aggressive behavior. They are not the squeaky wheel or more overt trouble-maker, so by the time you figure this out, it's a serious problem.

4. Once they've had a disagreement and discussed it in a heathly way, they can't let it go. Conflict on staff is normal and can be not only healthy but also productive if the team knows how to resolve conflict. It's an early warning sign if after a good conversation where disagreement took place and resolution was achieved, the staff member just couldn't seem to let it go. It's almost as if being right is better than moving forward.

In all four of these early warning signs, you are looking for a pattern, not a one-time kind of behavior. We're all human and do dumb things. Don't try to "catch" staff doing something wrong, but be discerning about a developing pattern of behavior that can lead to serious problems.

Discerning these signs early allows you a much greater chance of keeping that great staff member you hired great!

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.

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