Leading Well When you Aren't in Control

June 7, 2018

“Ministry, work, and life in general would be a lot easier if I could just be in control of everything.”

We can all admit we’ve had these thought before, right?

“If they would just listen. If they would just do what I’m telling them to do. If I could just make the decision for them.”

Anyone can experience this frustration, regardless of your team or title. At the same time, I think  church communicators experience a unique version of this frustration because of your direct involvement in every ministry throughout the church. Church communicators collaborate with, support, and promote the work of many other leaders, teams, and even organizations in the community. It can be deeply satisfying work. It can also be frustrating if you feel like everything is out of your control.

Zooming in a little closer, here are four specific ways that feeling a lack of control might show up in your work:

Lack of Focus

  • “I can’t get the pastor/ministry leaders to care about our priorities, our processes, or communications in general.”
  • “I can’t get anyone to commit to a plan and stick with. New ideas keep derailing and replacing the ideas we just committed to last month.”

Lack of Resources:

  • “I don’t have the budget to do what I need to based on the vision and goals we have.”
  • “I am working on a seven year-old computer and outdated software. I want to do my best work, but it’s hard when so much time is lost to inefficient equipment.”

Lack of Boundaries:

  • “I have too many cooks in the kitchen. Everyone has an opinion on what the graphic should look like.”
  • “I have a family and a life outside of work, but the ministry keeps taking priority because other people failed to plan and expect me to respond to their emergency.”

Lack of Time:

  • “I can’t find time to do things well because of the number of meetings I’m expected to go to every week.”
  • “I have so many daily responsibilities, there is no time to think strategically or plan for the future.”

These are very real challenges. We can have a direct impact on them by managing our time well, getting creative with the resources we do have at hand, and being clear with ourselves about where our boundaries are set. But often, a lack of control is a reality we have to accept.

So what can you do when you are facing a lack of control?

You can ‘lead up’ and you can get intentional about your influence.

Leading up is helping your leaders accomplish what they and the whole organization wants to accomplish. Leading up effectively creates alignment and maximizes the effort of the whole team. The key is shared vision and goals.

Influence is doing your best to support and invest in those around you, through your words and actions, for the greater good. Positive influence creates an environment of collaboration, honesty, and support. The key is relational connection.

Leading up isn’t being a teacher’s pet and having influence doesn’t mean manipulation. In their healthiest forms, both rely on trusting relationships, shared vision, and a desire to help the team (or organization) win. And while you may not have positional authority, you do have relational influence. When you move away from a mindset of trying to get control and move toward influence, you can find a way to move the whole team forward from any seat on the bus.

Here are four principles to help you lead up and influence well:

Mission Above All Else
The greatest priority has to be the mission. You aren’t fighting another ministry for room in the budget, a ministry leader isn’t the enemy, and you aren’t competing for a promotion. The Church has the greatest and easiest mission to support. When you start to feel frustrated about a particular challenge or lack of control, check in with yourself to make sure you are striving to serve the mission and not your own desires or insecurities. 

Honor at All Times
Honor everyone you interact with. Do your best to fully understand their perspective, their goals, and their experiences. It won’t serve you well (or the team) to make a caricature of someone else’s opinion or perspective. When you take a posture of honor, you are slow to speak and quick to listen. 

Get Intentional
If you need to have an important conversation, think about what day of the week is ideal for the other person. Think about their workload, their stress level, and their schedule. Anticipate the questions you might need to answer. Show initiative to align your individual goals with a higher level organizational or team goal. Do your best to serve others every step of the way. Leave assumptions at the door. Don’t “hope for the best.” Plan for reality.

Speak the Truth
At Fishhook, we like to say, “Facts are friends.” It’s tempting to think we have to choose between speaking the truth and maintaining relationships. But when you hold back from saying what you think, know, or feel, you aren’t protecting the relationship. You are actually isolating yourself and distancing others from your unique perspective. Speaking the truth isn’t always easy, but you have to bring your whole self to the table. God has put you in this specific role in this specific church for a reason. And if you think speaking the truth (with love and grace, this isn’t giving you person to be a jerk) could cost you your job or ministry, it may be time to reevaluate whether this is the right place for you to be serving today. 

Doing work that matters requires we all step up to the challenges in front of us, especially when we aren’t in control. When you lead up well and when you use your influence effectively, everyone wins. You serve the mission best by helping everyone you come in contact with grow and by striving to bring to life the shared vision that brought you to this work in the first place.   

Adam Bouse

Communications Strategist