Developing the Talent You Already Have
By Reggie McNeal
As a leader you have major responsibility for shaping the culture of your ministry and organization. So why not be good to yourself and others through developing a culture that values and cultivates everyone’s strengths?
This practice will buck the usual approach in organizational and church life, where people get hired for what they are good at, then beaten up for what they don’t do well. This dynamic shows up at the volunteer level when we recruit people for their abilities and proceed to evaluate them on the basis of their shortcomings.
But it doesn’t stop there; the switcheroo extends to paid leaders. When looking for new leadership, many congregations call the new pastor to fix the last pastor! Then, to top it off, they discover they liked the previous pastor more than they thought! Guess who pays for this discovery?
Searching For the Right Person
Strengths-conscious leaders not only ask, “What should be done?” but, “Based on talent, who should have this assignment?”
When football coaches decide to kick a field goal, they call in their kicker.
How absurd would it be to give that assignment to someone who just wants to be a kicker? Or, as a way to get a player involved in the game? What about pulling a major donor from the stands to give him a moment in the spotlight?
How demoralizing would any of these choices be to the rest of the team? How many games would that coach win? Why would talent hang around this kind of situation?
As crazy as this sounds, much of the whining I hear from leaders about not having adequate talent, not enjoying winning seasons, or whatever, directly relates to poor talent management.
None of this discussion of building on strengths is intended to ignore weaknesses. Obviously, you have to address the ways that keep your people and organization from moving ahead. The key is in how you do it. If your approach involves focusing on people’s weaknesses, you will foster an underperforming culture.
I often tell the story of Frank, the mythological (but all-too-real!) car salesman who knocks the ball out of the park every month in sales but struggles with his paperwork.
So the dealership ships him off to paperwork school, where he has his nose rubbed in his poor performance. Nevertheless, Frank is a high achiever and commits to doing quality paperwork. However, because it takes so much energy and time for Frank to do his paperwork, guess what happens to his sales?
Eventually, Frank thinks, “If I sell another car it will kill me!” By focusing on Frank’s weakness, we have obliterated his talent and quenched his enthusiasm for what he does superbly. Sound familiar?
Better ways of managing performance weakness include recruiting others who have the talent, reassigning responsibilities to match talent and outsourcing certain tasks to outside talent.
I have been intrigued to see that some congregations are using video venues featuring a superb communicator from elsewhere for teaching, which frees the staff to focus on other strengths.
Developing a strengths-based culture also involves giving people permission to quit doing things they are not good at. This means strategizing on how to accomplish these tasks or deciding whether they even need to be done.
We do not do people any favors by getting them into situations that don’t match their talent. Others wind up getting frustrated with them or even losing respect for their other abilities.
A Round Peg in a Square Hole
In response to a vacancy on its executive team level, one ministry filled the role with one of its most respected ministers. Unfortunately, the talent match didn’t work. The skills that made the minister effective in local situations didn’t include office administration.
The tragedy of the situation is not that the assignment didn’t work out. Sadly, people throughout the organization lost respect for a formerly highly regarded person, a loss that was unnecessary. They had ignored the minister’s strengths.
Spiritual leaders need to ward off insidious perfectionism that can permeate their thinking. Carrying unrealistic expectations about your own and others’ performance eventually violates people by robbing them of the joy of celebrating their strengths.
It is also idolatrous to set aside God’s work in people through his sovereign distribution of talent and substitute a design fabricated around organizational requirements.
God is in the people-development business. He didn’t plant a garden and then decide to create people to take care of it. The chores in paradise were designed to help Adam grow.
This dynamic became confused after the Fall. God predicted to Adam that as a result of sin’s entrance into the world, work would become frustrating rather than fulfilling. As a spiritual leader, your commitment to building a strengths-based culture helps to lift the curse.
Our strengths are also our needs. Said another way, we each need to do what we do well. If we don’t get a chance to perform in the area of our talents, we feel cheated, grow frustrated, and court burnout.
Most ministry burnout is the common-garden variety that results from leaders dealing constantly with staff that produces no energy and does not play to their talents. Eventually, leaders run out of emotional, psychological and spiritual reserves.
A strong sense of call or commitment or a highly developed sense of responsibility may keep the leader in place, but only a shell of the once-vibrant person remains.
This happens far too frequently in spiritual leadership circles to be ignored. Moving toward areas of strength, including talent and passions, provides a clear strategy for avoiding burnout.
Leaders who choose greatness decide to become better at what they are good at. They strategize as to how they can do more of what brings them energy. They develop strengths-based cultures and flee toxic environments that threaten to suck the life out of them by chaining them to areas for which they have neither passion nor talent.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”