Below is an article I wrote for Zondervan which now appears in a book called Steering Through Chaos by Scott Wilson. The subtitle says it all: "Mapping a Clear Direction for Your Church in the Midst of Transition and Change." This book holds a lot of fascination for me, so watch for a review in the coming weeks. For now, here is the article which was reprinted in the book. Last month President Obama held a town hall a few minutes away from our church. He announced to the watching world that he was standing in the county with the worst unemployment rate in the nation. That wasn't a surprise to us in Granger—we had been feeling the pain of the downward spiraling economy for nearly two years.
In fact, it led to the agonizing decision to cut eight full-time staff positions. We could no longer afford to pay them. That meant I had to fire a woman who had served us faithfully for more than ten years; and another who is a single mom with three kids; and another whose mother-in-law died the night before; and another who was my personal assistant and good friend.
I've long believed that more leaders mess up because of bad communication than because of bad decisions. Very few leaders fail because they made the wrong decisions. But many fail because they didn't take the time to communicate the decision to the right people, at the right time, in the right order. In my experience, I'd say twenty-percent of leadership is making the right decisions. Eighty percent is appropriately communicating those decisions.
And appropriate communication for this transition was needed. We had people who walked into work on a Monday morning with a job, and left minutes later unemployed. We had remaining staff members who just learned they would no longer be working with their best friend. We had family members who were hurting for their dad or mom or spouse. We had eight people who we loved and cherished now entering a job climate that was harsh—where one in six people are unemployed and looking for work. We had volunteers who were rightfully in pain for their friends.
Challenging leadership transitions require great communication. But communication isn't an exact science. It requires strategy, assessment, execution, reassessment, more execution, and finally evaluation of what worked and what didn't.
I'm not a pro at this, but I have learned a few things in my fifteen years at Granger…
- Start with a written communication strategy.
- Don't delay your communication. Waiting says you are hiding something.
- Consider your key influencers. Who needs to know first? Then who? Who after that?
- Be straight with people. No one will be surprised you are facing troubles. They are just watching to see how you will handle it.
- Ask people to help you. Everyone has potential to fuel the fire of gossip and bitterness or put it out. Call your leaders to be firemen and women for a short time, and provide them water (i.e. information) so they can be effective.
- Plan time for conversations to help people process. You've been living in the pain for awhile and are ready to move on. But they are experiencing it for the first time. Give them space to vent.
If you aren't going through a tough transition right now—I can promise you that one is just around the corner. Spend time making the best decision you possibly can with the information you have available. But then spend most your time focusing on communication. That is where the battle is won or lost.