Oh, I know the title of this one really shows my age. That was a cool saying once upon a time. Ok, maybe not cool, but it got said a lot. This post isn’t going to be a knock the wind out of your sails kind of post though as the title would imply. No, in fact, I hope it puts the wind IN your sails. But first, I do want to smack you with some conviction, if you’ll allow me.
So, you aren’t all that. You aren’t the only one out there that can do what you can do. In fact, if you’re leading a team (paid or unpaid), you’re probably not even the best at everything. At least, you better not be if you consider yourself a good leader. If you’re a good leader, you should be surrounding yourself with people that are better than you. At the least, they should shore up your weaknesses. They should be able to come alongside you and work in the areas that you aren’t the strongest so that you can concentrate on the areas that you ARE the strongest.
If you’re sitting here reading this thinking one of the following, I have news for you:
- I don’t have a staff and I don’t think I can trust volunteers to do the quality work they need to.
- I have staff, but they won’t do as good of a job as me.
- I have volunteers or staff, but I don’t want to burden them with this.
- I just need to do it myself because it will be my responsibility if someone else messes it up.
News flash, you’re prideful and need a gut check. I know that’s a bold statement, but I can make it. I have said all those things myself at one point or another. And I can promise you, it’s pride. Maybe not conventional pride that’s easily recognizable, but it’s pride and arrogance nonetheless. And if you’re not willing to bring capable people alongside you because you’re afraid they will be better than you, well, shame on you. You don’t deserve leadership. You also don’t deserve leadership if you’re so controlling that everything has to be your way and done just so. At least, you don’t deserve leadership in a large organization.
Ok, so, now that I’ve deflated some of you, I’ll kick the air compressor on and try to fill you back up. Here’s the reality, you can’t do everything. That’s not a dig at your abilities or your capacity. Some people are able to do 20 things at the same time while others can do 60. That’s ok. But in most cases, you simply can’t do that much at a sustained pace. That leads to burnout. So, stop it. And bringing capable people in to work alongside you is not shameful or a failure. That’s called teamwork. For all you sportsball fans reading, imagine if the quarterback was the only guy on the offense. He wouldn’t las long. Neither will you. All of those to-dos will eventually catch up to you like a defensive line at the Super Bowl. How’s that for a visual?
Now that we’ve established the lunacy of trying to do things all on your own, let’s see how we tackle it. It would be super easy for me to say something like “hire someone to do stuff” because of the organization that I serve in. We have that ability. I’m also the first one that’s going to hesitate to just jump out and hire someone because I want to justify the payroll and make sure the workload exists. The last thing I want is a paid socialite in the office. Obviously, the type of organization I work in, a church, uses and depends heavily on volunteers. That’s a great place to start. In fact, you should start there. (Full transparency: the phrase “just find a volunteer” taxes me a bit and I’ll explain why shortly.)
Volunteers are amazing, wonderful, ministry multiplying armies if you can find the ones you need and you take care of them. I have a wonderful team of volunteers at my church. I had a wonderful team of volunteers at my last church. Guess what, they are both equally wonderful and almost completely different in how they operate in my ministry. And my ministry is the same role in both of those churches. But the people volunteering are different. They have different skills and different strengths. One of the most critical jobs I have is to navigate that like a composer orchestrating a symphony. I would use a different analogy, but that one fits so well. If I do my part right, figuring out strengths of the people I do have available, I can make beautiful music with the team. Depending on your organization size, and what you’re doing, you can too. And you should.
Outside of navigating their talents and skills, you also need to take care of them. All too often, this gets overlooked by leaders. Before Covid19 hit and practically shut everything down, I was always insistent on providing some sort of snack for the team on Sunday mornings. Technically, we still aren’t able to do that based on guidelines and it kills me. But I can provide a fridge with drinks, a coffee maker with K-cups, ice cream snacks, breakfast bars, chips, cracker sandwiches, etc. And I do. I also throw a party at least once a year with outstanding food, games, fellowship, and giveaways (like a 50″ TV among other things). Why? Because I literally cannot do what I do without them. Even having a staff team, I cannot manage everything that has to be done on game-days without a massive team of volunteers giving their time and service to my ministry. And I want them to know how important they are. I am also very prone to sending handwritten cards to my people. Along with gifts and surprises at their front doors, etc. It may seem silly and it may seem insignificant, but I promise you, it matters. If you’re not doing something, at least a handwritten note to say thank you in the mail, start. Now.
What if you just don’t have volunteers available? Ah, yes, now we come to the part of using volunteers that taxes me. It’s very easy for leadership above you to just say “find a volunteer” because it isn’t something they have to deal with. But, you and I both know they will be irked if that random disinterested volunteer doesn’t do a good job and it will be on you to fix the problem. And, as much as I absolutely love volunteers, they can, and sadly sometimes do, flake out on you and you’re left holding the bag. And sometimes you end up holding too many bags because of circumstances beyond your control or theirs. This is where you have to be able to navigate that balance. You have to back up and write another verse in that symphony. It is your job to determine if you do or don’t have volunteers available and help your leadership understand that you’ve tried, they just aren’t there, and you need help. I wish I could say I have a magical formula for that. But, I don’t. It’s still a struggle in my organization. Sometimes I think it’s because of the “just find a volunteer” rhetoric that gets so easily thrown out in discussion from people that don’t actually understand the arena I work in. But regardless, it’s still a struggle at times.
Ok, you’ve exhausted volunteers and you’re ready to move ahead with getting help. That doesn’t have to be a full-time staff member with benefits. Sometimes it can mean contract help. I know a lot of churches like mine that hire out audio engineers for all their services. They aren’t staff members of the church, but they are paid and that means you have an automatic level of expectation that is set along with the paycheck. It could mean hiring someone to do some repair or outsource work for you. I have two video guys on my team. I am also a video guy. My audio guy is also an outstanding video guy. Guess what? I’ve still outsourced things from time to time. Why? Because I have other things I need to do. So does my audio guy. And my video guys are taxed with projects that are higher priority, but the outsourced project also has a deadline. Again, your role as the leader is to navigate that. Just be careful to navigate it with wisdom an don’t cry wolf. I have seen too many leaders stand around complaining about how much work they have to do rather than doing the work. Sorry, if I was your boss, I wouldn’t really be interested in getting you any help either. You’re too busy complaining and griping (or socializing) and not actually working. You get paid to work.
I want to back up and touch on something. I mentioned all the ability on my team to do a specific type of work and yet I still chose to outsource. You’re possibly thinking I’m mad crazy nuts or something. No, I’m not. It’s all part of that leadership navigation I keep coming back to. As the leader, I have to do things that the leader does. I have responsibilities that don’t and shouldn’t fall to team members. Same with my audio guy. He may be awesome at video, but he has primary responsibilities and sometimes that means he can’t dip into video work. And with the other guys already busy, it’s my job to make sure things get done. It’s also my job to make sure that my audio guy can get his stuff done and I can get my stuff done. I have to do that only I can do. I have to let the members of my team do what only they can do. And I can promise you that I long ago put aside my pride and surround myself with people (paid and unpaid) that are better than I am. They can run circles around me and that’s how I want it. I’d rather have to hold them back (even at the cost of their frustration at times) than have to drag them along. And the only reason I’d hold them back is to make sure we don’t get into an overload situation or to make sure we aren’t running off the rails away from the needs of our organization.
I once had a leader teach me something that will stick with me forever. Just because someone does something in a different way, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If the job gets done, it’s done. I know an argument can be made that this idea isn’t always true. But in my world, it’s pretty accurate. I have to let go of control and I have to trust. And if I equip my team, establish clear boundaries, and keep open dialogue and communication, I have no reason to worry that they aren’t going to get the job done. Not only that, but when they realize they have ownership because I’m not going to micromanage, they usually do better because it’s “theirs” after all. I also have to realize that, while it stinks for someone like me, I can’t always be in the trenches with them. I can’t always be with them doing the tasks or work that they are doing. That’s really hard for me, but that’s ultimately why they are there. And I have a different responsibility.
I used to love this meme. I took pride in thinking that I was a the leader that was there pulling the load with the team. I never wanted to be the boss that sits on the load and the team carries it. Sometimes it feels like if I’m not in the trenches, I have reversed roles and have become the boss. I have to remind myself that isn’t necessarily true. The reality of this meme is that even the leader is in a different position. He is out front, taking point, in a different place than the team. This is still a hard one for me, I will be honest. If the team is out doing some sort of physical work or running an event, I desperately want to be alongside them. I don’t want them or anyone to think that I am above any type of work or task. But I have to own the responsibility I have been entrusted with and sometimes that means I can’t be in that place with them.
Now what? Well, you may need to have a conversation with some volunteers. You may need to figure out if you need to hire some contractors or staff. That means you have to have a potentially difficult conversation with your leadership. Don’t shrink back from it and try to just muddle through and get by. You’re not helping yourself or your organization. But engage it with wisdom. In fact, you can probably go to those leaders and ask for help navigating it and they may have solutions for you and it won’t be a fight at all.