When Conflict Is Healthy — The Advantage (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012)

Organizational health is the topic is this book. For a group to be healthy, there must be honesty, integrity. When that is present, permission for healthy conflict is part of the group’s operating rules.

Some Christians have equated different ideas and perspectives with a lack of spirituality. This opens the door to what we see in many leadership groups: politics, frozen momentum, helplessness, and hopelessness. No one can consistently communicate his best ideas without sometimes disagreeing with someone else. And so they don’t. As a result, the most overbearing or the most influential person (often for the wrong reasons) rules the group.

I hope the following “mustard seeds” will encourage you to buy the book, digest it, and discuss it in your group to improve the health of your leadership team.

[All page numbers are from the Kindle edition.]

The kind of trust that is necessary to build a great team is what I call vulnerability-based trust. This is what happens when members get to a point where they are completely comfortable being transparent, honest, and naked with one another, where they say and genuinely mean things like “I screwed up,” “I need help,” “Your idea is better than mine,” “I wish I could learn to do that as well as you do,” and even, “I’m sorry.” (page 27).

When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer. It is not only okay but desirable. Conflict without trust, however, is politics, an attempt to manipulate others in order to win an argument regardless of the truth. (page 38).

Nowhere does this tendency toward artificial harmony show itself more than in mission-driven nonprofit organizations, most notably churches. People who work in those organizations tend to have a misguided idea that they cannot be frustrated or disagreeable with one another. What they’re doing is confusing being nice with being kind. (page 44).

The only way to prevent passive sabotage is for leaders to demand conflict from their team members and to let them know that they are going to be held accountable for doing whatever the team ultimately decides. (page 51).

There are a few critical keys to making staff meetings work, many of which I’ve already discussed in this book. For instance, if there are too many people on a team, or if the people in the room don’t trust each other and aren’t willing to engage in productive conflict, then no matter how you reorganize your meetings you won’t see much impact. (page 178).

When it comes to building a cohesive team, leaders must drive the process even when their direct reports are less than excited about it initially. And they must be the first to do the hardest things, like demonstrating vulnerability, provoking conflict, confronting people about their behavior, or calling their direct reports out when they’re putting themselves ahead of the team. (page 191).

Whose Heart Attack Is Most Important?

what doesn’t work in dealing with manipulators

He was the most powerful “head elder” I’ve ever met in more than five decades of preaching. When a meeting wasn’t going his way, he’d say, “Well, it’s time to go out and greet the people.” (We met before services.) Without a word, the rest of the elders rose and followed him out of the room without question or comment. If someone made a suggestion he didn’t like earlier in the meeting, he’d say, “When “you boys” get as old as I am, you’ll understand we can’t do things that way.” And that was the end of that.

It was the most depressing time of my ministry. We were stuck, and there was no way out with that kind of leadership. We were going to do things the way we’d always done them because that’s the way we’d always done it. Any class, project, program, or special emphasis was defeated before it was started.

One night after services, an elder started talking with me: “Jerrie, I know it must be discouraging for you. I know we shouldn’t let things keep going on this way. I know we shouldn’t let brother John Doe defeat everything. But I don’t think I can go against him. You know, he’s already had one heart attack. And I’m afraid if we didn’t go along with him he might have another heart attack. I just don’t think I could live with myself if we resisted him and he had a heart attack and died the next day.”

My reply: “Have you ever known of a man forty-six years old having a heart attack?”

Elder: “Yes.”

My response: “Why is his heart attack more important than my heart attack?”

Why is his heart attack more important than my heart attack? Click To Tweet

What did I learn from that?

  • This head elder got much of his power from acts of service years before. Some people said, “This man and his family helped us, gave us food during the depression.” That’s the way to be great in the kingdom. (Matthew 20:26-28) However, he used good will to dominate the leadership group.
  • All blame doesn’t go to the head elder. If a situation is chronic in a group, it’s because everybody likes it the way it is more than what it would take to change it. He didn’t dominate without permission from half-dozen other men who wore the title of elder. They cooperated with him to be dominated. Isaiah wrote:

But I will put it into the hand of those who afflict you,
Who have said to you,
“Lie down, that we may walk over you.”
And you have laid your body like the ground,
And as the street, for those who walk over (Isaiah 51:23, NKJV).

When someone tells me, “People are always running over me,” I ask, “When did you lie down?”.

“People are always running over me.” “When did you lie down?” Click To Tweet
  • Strong leaders need to check often about how they’re coming across. They have the choice in not exercising all the power they have to invite other people to express their views and supply their leadership. This virtue is called self-control.
  • When one operates out of fear of what might happen — heart attack, suicide, nervous breakdown, or anger explosion — he doesn’t serve the person or the group well. That kind of manipulation and agreement to be controlled isn’t exhibiting the spirit of Jesus.

How have you dealt with toxic head elders?
How have you dealt with your tendency to become the head elder?
Please comment below:

Is Grace a Gift or a Bargain?

is there hope for people who are slow to accept grace?

It was one year, seven months, and 22 days since the gift was presented. Bob and Bea McElvain came to our Golden Wedding Anniversary party August 30, 2014. They gave us a gift card to Patti’s 1880’s Restaurant in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. We enjoyed that meal April 21, 2016.

As we ate and a few running days since then, I’ve been reflecting on gifts and grace.

  • A gift doesn’t cost the recipient anything. Even if the price for an item were $1,000.00 and the person sold it to me for $1.00, it wouldn’t be a gift but a bargain — a good bargain but aPatti's bargain because I had to pay the $1.00 to receive the benefit. [tweetthis]Our salvation is a gift — not a bargain.[/tweetthis] “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9, NKJV).
  • Even though I don’t have to pay anything, I may have to do something to receive the gift. Our delicious and abundant meal was completely free to us. But we had to go to Grand Rivers, Kentucky, order from the menu, chew the food and swallow it to receive the gift. But showing up and enjoying the meal didn’t mean we earned it. The food was free.
  • In receiving many gifts, you have to be present to win. Our family shopped at a grocery store just off the square in Centerville, Tennessee when I was growing up. They often gave tickets when we bought groceries. On a Saturday afternoon, they would draw a ticket from a big basket. The person who had the winning number would win the prize. I remember the Saturday they gave away a Shetland pony, bridle, and saddle. I wanted that pony. They had a rule on the contest: you have to be present to win. Being present didn’t mean you earned the prize, but it was necessary to receive the gift.

    That principle is true with God’s gifts. A person has to be “in Christ” to receive any spiritual gift. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

  • The fact that a person takes a long time to accept the gift doesn’t mean they aren’t interested, and will never accept it. We like to go to Patti’s. We weren’t rebellious at the offer of the gift. It took a while (one year, seven months, and 22 days) for us to be where we were ready to accept the gift fully.

    There have been times when I have offered and encouraged others to accept God’s gifts. It has been days, months, and years. I see no interest or movement in that direction. That is fromPatti's 2 my perspective. They may be very interested and moving even as I write this post. I shouldn’t assume their lack of interest because I can’t see it.

  • There is a limit to grace. Years ago, a friend gave us a gift certificate to a restaurant. We talked about going. We knew it was good. We had eaten there before. Several months later we went. We were hungry and anticipating a good meal. The restaurant was closed. We had waited too long. The certificate was useless. We have to use God’s gift card before the time limit expires — death or Jesus’ return.
  • I was able to extend more grace because of the grace I had been given. When we received the bill, we figured the tip for the gracious waitress. She did an excellent job. She’s been working at Patti’s 25 years! There was some money left on the card after we figured the usual tip. We decided to give her that also.
  • But I didn’t give her the extra from “my” money. It didn’t cost me anything. It was part of the gift given to me. That’s true of the grace I extend to others. I only give what God has given me. Gail and I give liberally. But we only give what’s been given to us.

    God promised to give us everything we need to do everything He wants us to do.

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for Go loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

[tweetthis]I don’t want to fail to share what I have with others because I’m afraid God will run out of gift cards.[/tweetthis]

I don’t want to get discouraged when someone doesn’t use the gift cards I’ve given them. It may take one year, seven months, and 22 days — or longer to see the results. Or I may never see it.

[tweetthis]I need to give because I need to give — not just to see the results.[/tweetthis]

What have you learned about grace — receiving gifts from God and  giving grace to others?
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