January 2011

How to be a Teflon Leader  - David L. Bleivik


They used to say that President Reagan was the Teflon president. We see other leaders who share that quality. No matter what happens to them, nothing seems to stick to them. I have known pastors like that, and I began to watch what they did so I could be like them. Here are some of my observations or “Teflon Rules” for pastors and other leaders:

Never let yourself be put you on a pedestal
This allows people to objectify you. Eventually they will realize you are a flawed creature like the rest of us and might be upset with you. Furthermore, it is easier to hit a person on a pedestal; and we are called to lift up our Lord not ourselves.

Admit your flaws. In fact advertise them by asking for help.
Not only does this prevent you being put on a pedestal, but it creates reasonable expectations. When you make a mistake, and people realize you learned from it, they can let go of it. Further, when you ask people for help, it puts you on the same team. People feel valued when they are needed.

If someone makes a joke about their own weakness or flaw, never join in.
People often share their weaknesses in order to avoid the pain of being ridiculed. They hope someone will understand. Understanding someone promotes their effort to understand you.

Lyle Schaller use to say that change happens when you have a pastor plus allies.
The goal of a quarterback is to pass or handoff the ball to someone most of the time. Always remember, it is not about the pastor. It is about God and the Body of Christ. Invest in someone else and enable their fruitfulness.

Laugh a lot! (Especially about yourself and your failings) Have some fun. It helps people lighten up.
If you take yourself too seriously, you are not taking God seriously enough. People like to have fun.

Make time for your people to just listen to them.
Malcom Gladwell in Blink says that doctors who take an extra five minutes to listen to their patients are hardly ever sued for malpractice. Take the extra time to listen to your members, and they will give you extra grace.

Treat people as adults, never talk down to people or think you know what is best for them
There is nothing that frustrates people more than not being taken seriously.

Don’t rush people!
Hurried decisions get a negative response not only to the decision but to the one who is hurrying them.

Respect and honor your church’s roots or history. 
Effective adaptive plans respect the past. In fact, they build on it. The more you include past pathways or practices with new ones, the higher the level of trust for your plan and you. New ideas paired with old ideas are five times easier for people to accept and to learn. Brain mapping studies suggest that we learn by pairing a new idea with an old one that we trust.

Reactive decisions create tension; proactive decisions build trust.
When something goes wrong that you need to react to, try to respond proactively. Start by asking, “How will we plan for this in the future?” Problem solving energizes people, so they will come up with good solutions. It shows people that they are not at the mercy of what happens. It models proactive thinking and creates cooler heads with which to react.

Try to notice those who are not being noticed, and notice them. Honor your people.
Find something special about them and tell them. In fact, do it for everyone. Insecure people notice those who don’t notice them. If someone blesses you, not only tell them, but also tell their friends and family how they blessed you. By the way, people who are not noticed tend to find ways to be noticed that are not always edifying.

Kiss a baby, play with a child, and enjoy them.
People like leaders who like those that they love. When you do the children’s sermon or relate with children, people watch you in order to decide whether you are safe to come to with a problem.

Don’t think out loud, unless you are willing to accept the consequence. Think before you speak; and then, think and speak positively.

Forgive quickly and gracefully. Secret grudges are never secret.

Jesus said that we need to forgive people before we can truly worship Him. Paul told us not to let the sun go down on our anger. James warned of roots of bitterness. Attitudes of anger are almost worst than anger itself.

It is more important to listen to people than to agree with them.
Love your people and tell them that you love them.
Tell people you are sorry if they are hurt by something you did, even if what you did was right.
Never do any of the above to manipulate people, but rather to love them and to glorify God!



David Bleivik is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Dearborn, Michigan. He is the former executive presbyter of Washington Presbytery, Pennsylvania.



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