The High Quality Leader

An important factor in church leadership is emphasizing high quality in performance of church-related work. This leadership orientation is the sum total of those attitudes and behaviors of a pastor or other church leader that communicates that leader’s high expectations that she or he, as well as all others on the team, will deliver high quality performance in their church work. The emphasis is not upon coercing or demanding high quality work. It is behavior by the leader that stimulates a contagious enthusiasm for doing a good job. It is the recognition by the pastor or other church leaders that persons want to be identified with quality performance, and that when they are engaged in work they believe to be important, they will want to give it their best. (Rensis and Jane Gibson Likert, New Ways of Managing Conflict (McGraw Hill, 1976), p. 121)

The church as a “voluntary”; organization must rely upon the good will and high motivation of its members in order to accomplish its important mission. The realization that members can quit when they like causes some pastors and other church leaders to lower their expectations of members. The fear is that the church will ask too much of people and discourage them from taking on important church-related assignments. Such lowering of expectations lowers, not raises, motivational levels. It will probably result in lowering the quality of work done by volunteers. Therefore any temptations to lower performance expectations should be resisted.

1.  The Leader’s Role in Setting High Standards

a. Begin with a look at your own performance standards. The pastor or other church leader has a key role to play in emphasizing high quality in performance of church-related work. The place to begin is with a careful examination of one’s own performance goals and standards. If a church leader has set his or her personal performance goals low, or if one’s own performance standards for oneself allow for just getting by; rather than seeking high levels of competence and effectiveness, that leader is setting an example which will undermine high quality performance efforts by others.

Conversely, the leader who evidences high expectations of self tends to generate high expectations among other individuals and teams.

b. Refuse to tolerate mediocrity. When a leader tolerates indifferent performance in self or others, that leader is practicing mediocrity. Mediocrity contaminates and spreads. If it is tolerated in one member or group, it will eventually infect all. The mediocre member of a team is not one who does unacceptable work; he or she is one who does barely acceptable work — enough to justify his or her role but not enough to be called good or excellent. With proper motivation, the worker or team doing barely acceptable work might be able to deliver another 20-30% in quality performance. Furthermore, toleration of mediocrity by the leader tends to make the leader more tolerant of mediocrity in his or her own performance. 1

c. Match personal goals with organizational goals. It is said that “no one is lazy except in carrying out someone else’s ideas.” Persons in the church can be expected to work with most enthusiasm at those tasks which they see as helping them achieve their own goals and interests. This factor suggests that it is important for persons who are expected to carry out the work of the church to have a voice in determining the nature of the work to be done. When people participate in such decision-making, they can match their personal goals with the goals of the church organization.

d. Value quality as a way of valuing persons. If a person is asked to do a task which seems to be of little value or importance, that person is apt to feel dis-valued or unimportant as a person. Though not all tasks of the church are of equal importance, no one should be asked to do unimportant work. Even tasks of lesser importance need to be done well. In enlisting persons for church-related tasks, it is reinforcing to their sense of self- worth and self-esteem to be reminded of the significance of the church’s ministry and mission, to be told that the tasks for which they are being recruited are important for carrying out the ministry and mission of the church and that high quality performance is expected.

e. Encourage persons to stretch. The important work of the church, as it engages in ministry and mission, surely must provide many opportunities for persons to stretch and grow. To emphasize high quality in performance of church-related work includes encouraging persons to learn new ways of thinking and to develop new skills for their work.

2. Some Ways to Emphasize Quality Performance

a. Nominating and Personnel Committees. Persons or committees with responsibilities for enlisting officers or other workers for the church should receive training in their role. Such training should emphasize the use of candor with persons being recruited. Points to be emphasized with enlistees might include: the importance of the task to the life of the church; personal qualities or skills the enlistee brings that are especially valuable; overlap of interest the enlistee has shown with the requirements of the task. Never downgrade the task by saying “It won’t require very much of your time or effort.” It may be better to leave the post vacant until an enthusiastic person is found to fill it than have a half-hearted effort from someone coerced into the role.

b. Clarification of the Organization’s Purposes. Many church groups tend merely to perpetuate themselves out of custom and assumed purposes. Over the years, the purposes may change and/or become blurred in the minds of present members. Periodic review of the purposes of the group allows present members to own the continuing importance of their roles (or to change them, if need be). Commitment to doing high quality work then grows from a sense of the importance of the task, not the filling of an organizational slot.

c. Orientation and Training for Assigned Tasks. Church groups usually experience frequent turnover of personnel. Yet continuing members often fail to acquaint new members with the purposes and norms of the group, letting them catch up as they can. Orientation sessions and training for their tasks will indicate to persons that they and their jobs are important to the church, and that attention will be given to help them to achieve high quality output for the effort they expend.

3. Some Advantages to the Church From An Emphasis on Quality. The concern in the church for high quality performance is not self-glorification for the church or its members. The emphasis, rather, is upon utilizing the gifts and talents of all church members in participating in God’s creative and redemptive mission to, for, and with the world. The transformation of all creation into a society of love, peace, and justice is a worthy and important mission. Thus the church is called to high quality in its performance, not in terms of what the world calls “success,” but in God’s terms of commitment and obedience to God’s will for humanity. To the extent that high quality in performance is achieved the church experiences some of these advantages:

a. Mediocrity, complacency, and stagnation are avoided by individuals and the church as an organization.

b. Motivation to quality performance requires high levels of involvement by many persons in setting goals and programs of the church. This participation reinforces motivation and commitment in a self-feeding and affirmative cycle.

c. The empowerment of persons and groups is achieved through clarification of personal and group goals, training for more competency in one’s tasks, a strengthened sense of purpose for one’s tasks, a strengthened sense of purpose for one’s own life and for the church, a sense of one’s importance to and impact upon the church.

d. The involvement of a large percentage of the members in seeking high quality performance closes the gap that often exists between professional leadership and church membership.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

l. As you examine your own personal leadership behavior, in what ways do you emphasize high quality in performance in doing the work of the church?

2. In what ways do the standards or norms presently operating in your congregation tolerate mediocrity?

3. How does the recruitment of new church leaders take place in your congregation? What impressions are given to the “recruits” about the quality of performance which will be expected of them?

4. How is an emphasis on quality performance in a church leadership role an expression of Christian faith?