In his excellent book Good To Great business researcher Jim Collins tells the story of Rubbermaid and its CEO at the time, Stanley Gault. Rubbermaid grew from obscurity to number one on Fortune’s annual list of America’s Most Admired Companies under Gault’s leadership. Unfortunately, a few years after Gault’s departure Rubbermaid fell apart and was taken over by another company. Collins describes it this way: “Rubbermaid went from good to great for a brief shining moment and then, just as quickly, went from great to irrelevant.”
Collins finds the reason for Rubbermaid’s ultimate failure in an article filled with Gault’s comments on leading change. The singular pronoun “I” appeared 44 times while the plural pronoun “we” appeared only 16 times. As strong a leader as Gualt was, he failed at one key point and in the end that was the reason for Rubbermaid’s ultimate takeover by another company. He was focused entirely on self and failed to build a strong team around him. His successor lasted for one year and the company not too much longer.
The charismatic leader
When looking for a new pastor, churches too often are attracted to the Stanley Gault type of leader. Their primary concern is the numerical growth of the church and they believe that a charismatic leader is the best way to experience that growth. All of their problems will be solved if they can just attract a few more families to the church.
Back in 1997 Jim Collins was interviewed as part of a leadership conference. He shocked almost everyone when he said: “A charismatic leader is not an asset but a problem to recover from.”
Over the years I have come to believe that very strongly. The charismatic leader who believes that he alone has all the answers to a church’s problems is far too often an obstacle down the road. Charismatic leaders seldom stay in a small church long enough to make long-lasting, positive change.
The team player
One of the great challenges in small churches is building an effective, spirit-led team of leaders. Simple math explains why this is more difficult in a small-church setting. A church of 1000 has ten times as many potential leaders from which to choose as a church of 100.
I am not going to explain the secret of building a team in this blog entry but I want to stress the importance of having a team and of having a pastor who is part of that team. Every church needs a pastor who is not only committed to working with the current team but also committed to building a stronger team for the future.
Very seldom is the team builder a charismatic person. Often he is quiet and self-effacing. He doesn’t care who gets the credit as long as the church is impacted in a positive way. He is committed to the church and as such unpacks his luggage and settles in for the long haul. He knows the importance of working well with others.
Trust: The secret to team building
I was talking with a pastor at a conference and as pastors tend to do we were talking about our churches. The other person asked me what was new at my church and I shared some of the changes that we had recently made. After a few minutes of silence he blurted out: “You get away with murder at your church.”
I thought about that for a long time and I had to admit that I did get away with a lot. The people in the church extended a great deal of grace to me when it came to making changes. I was very fortunate to be in the church in which I was serving. I still look back with thanksgiving for the chance to serve there because it was a fun place to be.
Since then, I have come to the conclusion, that it wasn’t just that I had a good place to serve. That wasn’t the whole story. I had worked hard to build an atmosphere of trust with the leadership. It was that level of trust that enabled me to do much of what I wanted to do. They had come to believe that while some of the things that I did might stretch the church, I wouldn’t do anything that would create serious problems.
The team builder develops that kind of trust with his team.
So, charismatic leader or team builder? Most churches want to find the charismatic person but for the long-term good of the church I will take the team-builder every time.