Transforming Your Team Members Into Redemptive Leaders
by Glenn Reynolds
Redemptive Leadership and Organizational Development. The title of the doctoral track caught my eye because we do not often connect redemption with leadership. Desiring to connect leadership with spiritual life, I signed up for the doctoral program at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Harvey Powers presented a compelling definition of redemptive leadership, describing leadership as influencing others to release their redemptive potential and fulfill their purposes under God.
As spiritual leaders we are in the redemption business. Joseph’s testimony is our own: What the enemy meant for evil, God turned to good. The same potential that rested in Joseph lies in the people and the organizations we lead. As leaders, our role is more than simply to cast vision, develop budgets, or present strategic plans. Our role is to release the redemptive potential in the lives of those in our sphere of influence, starting with the members of our team.
But where do I start? It starts in you. To be redemptive leaders and coach redemptive leaders, we must be redeemed. That means more than a salvation experience 30 years ago. It means we actively allow Christ to shape and mold our hearts to overcome what the enemy means for evil and turn it to good in our lives.
Redemptive leaders do not cloister in their boardrooms or live sanitized lives above and beyond pain, pretending to have it all together. They have the scent of redemption on them. The Potter has their hearts in His hands, transforming and releasing them to fulfill God’s purpose, and redemptive leaders are open with their teams about it. Too often leaders act the role and play the part of the perfect leader rather than sharing their vulnerabilities and challenges with their team. Redemptive leaders walk the journey with the team, creating a life-giving environment for the team to do the same.
This understanding of leadership goes far beyond irrefutable laws or principles to make leadership personal, intimate, and redemptive. Leadership is what I do, but it is also about who I am and how I allow God’s story to unfold in my life and in the lives of the team I lead.
Dr. Powers recommends a model of redemptive leadership that transforms team members into redemptive leaders. The model consists of five elements, each building on the other. While the elements are progressive, they are not linear; they are cyclical. You do not move through one element with a team member, never to return. You work through the five elements over and over in cycles as God works and shapes the lives of the people you lead. You lead your team on a developmental process that never ends; it constantly recycles.
The journey begins with competency. Competence combines the experiences, education, and skills of your team members. Competence opens the door for their leadership in ministry. As a ministry leader, you will devote a great deal of your coaching to helping your team develop core competencies such as communication, vision casting, volunteer recruitment, priority management, and conflict resolution.
Through team chapels twice a month, we work to develop the competency level of our team through biblical leadership lessons. Competency is important since it is the door that allows team members into people’s lives. Without core competencies, your youth pastor simply cannot move forward as a redemptive leader.
In the end, competency imparts confidence to followers. This is one reason why it is important to invest heavily in training new team members to operate competently in the first 90 days when people are developing opinions of them. If team members return calls promptly, design services effectively, and run practices smoothly, those they lead will have confidence in them. That confidence opens the door for them to influence lives and validates your decision to hire them.
A principle is the underlying truth that transcends situations. Principles are just as true in Texas as in Tokyo. It is important for team members to know what to do; it is critical for them to understand why they are doing it. Principles help you and those you lead understand why you operate the way you do.
A core set of principles provides consistency to your leadership and allows your team to anticipate your reactions and responses to issues. Clearly communicating principles to your team allows them to go beyond simply mastering a skill to knowing why it is important.
A few years ago we trained several interns in the fine art of eliminating weeds from the church parking lot. We taught them where to buy the chemicals, how to mix the chemicals, how to apply the chemicals, and how to clean up after using the chemicals.
After a week to 10 days, the parking lot was weed-free. About a month later, the weeds crept up again. We waited several days and saw no action from the interns. They were competent at the task so why were they not employing their skills? They did not understand or we failed to teach them the principle behind why they were spraying and pulling weeds — excellence honors God. So, they waited until we told them to go back and spray and pull. They were competent, but they did not understand the principle.
Competency imparts confidence, but principles impart understanding. When you communicate principles to your team, they begin to understand the why behind the what. And in turn, they communicate that same principle to those they are responsible for leading.
Character is not just knowing right from wrong in a moral sense or simply keeping a set of commands or avoiding a certain set of behaviors. Character consists of the deep structures of your life — your strengths and weaknesses, your dark side, your hurts and wounds, and your vulnerabilities.
Character involves facing who we really are — the good, the bad, and the ugly. It forces us to be self-aware, practice self-management, and engage in self-development. It acknowledges that the heart of the leader directly impacts his or her ability to lead.
Character imparts trust to followers. Your team is looking at your character. If you expect them to open up to you about who they really are, you must open up to them about who you really are.
We have attempted to open dialogue about our inner lives by studying the book Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership together, completing the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory together, as well as the Thomas-Killman Inventory — a leading conflict-style inventory. These inventories and studies allow the team to give language to their inner world, and with language we allow each other to hold one another accountable, understand one another better, and help one another on the journey.
Transformation focuses on heart change in the leader and team. Leaders who allow Christ to transform them understand change starts in the heart and works into a life.
Life is filled with transforming moments — most often presented as new opportunities or as new challenges. Moving from Des Moines, Iowa, to Hampton, Virginia, provided an incredible opportunity. The church was larger, the city more populace, and the staff more seasoned. For me, this opportunity was a moment where I could ask God to transform my heart and life to be equal to the task. I had to grow from the inside out to be equal to my opportunity.
Other transformational moments are not as pleasant. Many opportunities for transformation come wrapped in conflict, ministry reversals, and personal loss. Again, think of Joseph — rejected by his family, falsely accused by his employer, and forgotten by his friends. Yet, he allowed God to transform his heart rather than let the enemy deform it.
Leaders must be alert to what occurs in a team member’s life — at work and outside of work — to determine when moments of transformation are at hand, assisting in guiding team members through those moments in a way that imparts healing. Remember how Barnabas walked through John Mark’s separation and rejection by the apostle Paul — helping him encounter it, process it, and benefit from it so they were later reconciled.
Redemptive leaders guide their teams in finding and releasing the power of their own redemptive stories in their successes, failures, wounds, and tragedies. They are powerfully able to speak hope and healing by God’s grace into the hearts of team members and release them to fulfill their redemptive potential. Redemption is our business, and that gives hope to teams and those we lead.
Competency + Principle + Character + Transformation = Redemptive Leadership
The process of transforming our team members into redemptive leaders grows more personal with each element — from task to meaning, from external to internal, from doing to being. You cannot do it through memoranda and dictates. Redemptive leadership happens as you live life with your team through the mountains and the valleys.
But it starts in you.
As redemptive leaders we influence our team out of who we are. If we want redemptive leaders on the team, we must have the scent of redemption in our lives.