Sep 25, 2012

When Leaders Blow the Call

Last night an epically bad call by replacement officials cost the Green Bay Packers a football game.  I didn't see the end of the game live, but I saw a sudden barrage of tweets as I was going to bed all lamenting the call and calling on Roger Goodell to end the referee holdout.  I saw the play repeated numerous times this morning on several morning shows.  It brought to mind several thoughts.  What do we do when those we trust in leadership let us down?  What are we supposed to think and feel when someone blows a call, not just in a football game, but in a strategic business or church decision?  In reality, this was a football game.  It did cost a team a victory, but lives aren't at stake and financial resources aren't at risk.  Here are some thoughts off the top of my head.  These are questions I think we can learn from moments like this.

1.  Are the right people in place to make the right call? - The first thing we notice from this situation is that the men that were on the field last night in the striped shirts really didn't belong on that field to begin with.  These men love football.  They obviously love to officiate football.  They were hired into this toxic environment because other men are fighting over money and benefits.  But, they are not the right people to be on the field at this time.  They are in this position as a substitute for the right people.

In the church world, we often have the right people in the wrong places or the wrong people in critical places in the organization.  We place people on leadership teams because they are nice people.  Or they are long-time members.  Or they make the most noise.  However, when it comes time to make a decision, they make the wrong decision because they weren't supposed to be in that position to begin with.  I have also seen this dynamic at work in professional ministry.  I am growing increasingly convinced that one of the reasons for high turnover and burnout in the church world is that many who are working in full-time ministry aren't supposed to be there to begin with.  They may love God.  They may love the church.  But passion isn't the sole quality of a leader.  Passion without competency is a naive attempt destined to fail.

2.  Have the people on the field been trained to do their job properly?  The officials that were in the game last night have been trained to officiate football.  However, their training was in a different environment - perhaps high school football, perhaps lower collegiate ranks.  These men were not trained to officiate the complex rules of the NFL at the speed at which this game is played.  In the last few weeks we have seen officials out of position to make calls.  Last night as the play finished, one official signaled one thing and the second signaled the opposite.  One of them look dumfounded at what call to make and was obviously just guessing - and he was the one who guessed right!

It's easy to see these guys weren't trained.  However, in the church world, we are guilty of this all the time.  We ask for people to volunteer to teach a class and then we give them a book and a roll and say "Good luck!"  We don't think through all the complexities of volunteering for a job.  We take for granted that they know many of the same things about the job that we do.  And when they do a poor job, we criticize the leader instead of evaluate the process.  I have been guilty of this far too often.  I have written off some very dedicated leaders early in my ministry because I was pitiful at training volunteers.  We often throw volunteers into the fray without thinking through our policies and training them on how to make critical calls regarding parents, security, answering tough theological questions, etc.   It's so easy to see in other organizations, but often so hard to see in ours because we think we've done all we can do.

On a personal note, let me speak to my pastor friends as well.  If you are in ministry, you need training. You are not an expert just because you have the title of pastor and the biggest office.  Your calling and gifts are not enough.  There is a dangerous trend emerging in ministry where I see a lot of young ministers who are "foregoing" seminary in order to attach themselves to a gifted leader or church and learn from them.  I have heard too many successful pastors belittle the seminary and education process. It is true that a lot of the practical things I learned in ministry, I learned outside of the seminary classroom.  There were many areas of working in the church I felt very unprepared for.  I am grateful that God placed some gifted and seasoned leaders in my life that gave me practical advice and examples.  However, there is also a price that needs to be paid in learning to be a leader.  In older days when a young man apprenticed himself to a tradesman, he spent many hours learning valuable lessons. He paid his dues.  I am afraid that a lot of young leaders are so frustrated with the ineffectiveness of many churches that they impatiently jump over some hoops in the process that will make them better equipped.  If you are called to pastor a church, you are accountable for the theological depth of that congregation.  That will not come from just reading John Piper books.  "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)  I am not suggesting that seminary is a "must" for everyone.  However, don't put off seminary just because you are trying to do "real ministry."  And don't put off stretching yourself with hard training because of fear or laziness.  If you have been to seminary, don't think that your degree is the end of your training.  Be a student of leadership. Find ways to improve your skills.  Create for yourself a personal improvement plan.

3.  What do you do when a obvious mistake is made?  It will be interesting in the next few days to see where this goes.  Fans, players, and coaches are frustrated.  Ultimately, the buck stops in the NFL commissioner's office to get the problem resolved and get the best men in place to call the game.  How will leader's react to such a volatile situation?

I believe one of the critical moments for us as leaders is not how we handle success, but how we handle failure.  What will we do when we make a decision and it backfires?  How will we handle accountability for our decision?  Will we try to spin the issue by saying "We did the best we could with the information at the time"?  Will we stubbornly dig our heels in and insist that the right call was made even when it's obvious to everyone else?  We don't usually have the luxury (or tyranny) of instant replay.  When we as a leader make a mistake, it is often what happens in the next few moments that will define our leadership in the organization.  And, we as leaders make a lot more mistakes than we like to admit.

What other questions come to mind for you about bad leadership decisions at critical times?