I recently had this conversation with a faith leader of a large organization. I thought I’d share it with you, because this is an issue lots of faith leaders struggle with: How do you deal with voices of resistance within your own staff?
“I think it’s time I laid down the law!” he said. “All these complainers spouting their objections are just slowing us down. I can’t lead by consensus. We’ll never get anywhere that way.”
“What do you mean by ‘laying down the law’? I asked. “What would that look like?”
“I would just tell them: This is where we’re going This is how we’re going to get there. And if you don’t like it, then maybe this isn’t the place for you.”
“What do you see as the advantage of that approach?” I asked.
“It would reduce my stress, for one!” he grinned. “Seriously, it would stop us focusing on all this infighting and get us back on mission.”
“What else?” I asked.
“It might weed out the complainers who really don’t want to be here, and just make life harder for everyone else.”
“OK,” I said. “Let’s say you’re right about those advantages. What are the disadvantages to taking that approach?”
“There are none!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, there are,” I said, “or you would’ve already done it. What are you concerned might happen if you ‘laid down the law’ in the way you suggest?”
He thought a moment. “Some people may not like me.”
“Some of the people who are voicing their opinion loudly may just go underground, and start spreading poison.”
I notice how angry he sounds at the people on staff who are complaining. But I don’t say anything about it yet. Instead, I ask, “What might it do to the spirit of unity on the staff, if you ‘lay down the law”?
Again, he thought for a moment. “In the short run, it will probably help. At least the complaining will die down for a while. But in the long run, I don’t know. It might just force all the conflict underground.”
“I think you’re hitting on something important here,” I said. “It has to do with the distinction between compliance, and alignment. Compliance is something you can force. It’s behavioral. You can use threats or anger or set up consequences to force people to stop voicing their resistance to your vision or methods. But alignment is attitudinal. It’s a heart thing. We all want our staffs to be aligned with us, to be unified from the heart with each other. But you can’t force alignment. Alignment is something you have to win…like winning someone’s heart.”
He sighed loudly. “Sounds hard.”
“It is. Way harder than forcing compliance.”
“How do you do it?”
I quickly laid out for him these 5 steps:
- Be willing to let go of the “Us and Them” mindset. Practice a “WE” mindset. “We” are having an alignment problem, and “WE” have to solve it. Together. You don’t have the answer, and they don’t have the answer. Only together, as WE, can the solution be found. Note: This may mean you’ll need to practice some forgiveness so you can love your people again.
- Call everyone together. And listen. Really listen. Don’t try to solve it for them. Rather, recognize that the solution will be found by listening to all the voices involved.
- Once you’ve listened, be vulnerable. Share your own angst over it all; your own confusion about how to handle it. Then invite the staff to join together as one (“WE”) to resolve the problem.
- Based on what is shared, identify clear, measurable next steps, and invite different leaders on the staff to champion each one and see it through to resolution.
- Finally, remind everyone of the compelling vision that brought you all together in the first place. There’s a larger story here. Re-enlist them in the Noble Cause that led you all to say yes to this work.
Finally, I added, “Of course you need to cover all of this in lots and lots of prayer. I’ve seen a leader’s single faith-fueled prayer resolve issues quicker than days of focused research and dialog. James was right when he said, ‘The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results'” (James 5:16 NLT).
How do you handle voices of resistance on your staff?