by Jonathan Cliff
Growing up, I loved a movie that involved two ridiculously dumb teenagers, Bill and Ted, which traversed the entire story of time in a time machine they found outside of a Circle-K. Every time they’d see something they liked, they’d look at each other and say “Excellent!” While their version of excellence was dripping with surfer and valley attitude, my own version of excellent has often left others wondering what I meant.
While I’d love to travel back in time like Bill and Ted, I cannot. Instead I’m one that has had to learn from my mistakes. One mistake I’ve often made as a leader is how I went about leading others on my team toward excellence. I would move too fast, not explain the steps toward excellence, and generally expect those on my teams to read my mind and do what I was thinking. My experience has taught me one very important truth. There is a better way to lead a team toward excellence.
The first step toward excellence is to communicate clearly what excellence is for your team. Every team is unique, every church is distinct, and every individual is different. Spend time defining what you’re looking for and how what you’re doing now will look different when it’s done with excellence. This step is worth spending weeks, and maybe even months, in developing the answer. Considering where your organization’s leadership has been before, where they are at now, and how they are growing in the future can help you begin to communicate clearly to your team where you need, and expect, to see excellence happen.
The next step into leading a team toward excellence is to connect your team to where you see excellence currently. What you dream for your team is probably happening on some level in other places, and it could even be within your own organization.
A few ideas here include:
- Identify that person on your team who is an A+ volunteer recruiter and let them share their strategies in a team meeting. This will bring attention to what she does in a vocal way; and set up the rest of the team for the expectations you have of them.
- Find another team doing what you believe you can do with your team, and make that connection happen. Take that other church staff out to lunch, on your dime, and make the connections a tangible thing. Make time to Skype in that leader from across the county and introduce their strategy of excellence to your team in a quick way.
- Assign those on your team who need to be better, to connect with leaders and organizations that they themselves respect and see if you can get what they respect about others to rub off on their own methods and strategies.
There is excellence all around us, and as a leader it becomes your burden to connect your own team with what is out there to learn from. This may be one of the most important long-term steps you take as a leader of a team, helping everyone develop relationships that challenge the way we do things in our organizations.
The last step to truly establishing a team of excellence is to set a realistic path toward excellence. Many leaders live in their world of visions, dreams, and big plans; and skip over the more obvious questions their team is asking.
- “What do I do now?”
- “How does what I’ve heard and seen help me prepare for next weekend?”
- “Could this ever happen here?”
- “Does what I see and hear have a place in my organization?”
Not taking the time to answer the “What now?” questions for your team will leave them disillusioned and unsure of what you will be holding them accountable to. Great leaders make sure they keep themselves tethered to the “what’s realistic” part of leadership as well. Your church, your team, and your ideas won’t always play nice; and as the leader it becomes your important job to help everyone manage each other in a respectful way.
A leader of excellence takes the time to help their team see what excellence can look like for them. A leader who wants excellence in their team will go to great lengths to find and connect others to those they should be most invested in, their own team. A great leader works to break down the vision into steps that are doable, realistic, and yet challenging at the same time. The leader of an excellent team helps everyone see where their current work is helping them achieve excellence and where their current work isn’t.
It’s not a job for the fainthearted, but it is the job of a leader seeking excellence in how they engage others in the story of God’s Son, Jesus. You could travel all through time and still wouldn’t find a more important story to tell. It’s excellent!
Jonathan serves as the Groups Life Pastor at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he works with leaders throughout his city and church to help develop community that leads to deep and meaningful spiritual friendships. He and his wife Starr have two sons and one daughter. Follow him on his blog, or on Twitter.