Fruitful Leadership

Photo May 09, 5 34 31 PM

The gym where I walk most days has several motivational type sayings painted on one of the walls. “Today’s actions are tomorrow’s results,” is the one I like the most. It reminds me that the investment of eating right and exercising today will pay off in a healthier body in the future.

In a world where instant gratification has become the norm, as leaders, we need to remember that the most important results will usually come from small investments over time.

What does success look like in your ministry? This can be a challenging question for many pastors and ministry leaders. The word “success” has a lot of baggage associated with it. Too often we think about the business world where success is usually related to profits, customer satisfaction, stock price, or other money related terms. In the church world we are often so focused on not being a business, that we lose sight of results altogether. That too can be dangerous.

If you don’t like the word “success,” then change it to “fruit.” What would cause you to feel your ministry has been fruitful this year? This should lead us to set SMARTER Goals. [see my earlier post] Another way to think about this same concept is to imagine where you would like your ministry to be at the end of the year, or at some other date in the future.

  • Pick an area of your ministry which you have been measuring, or one that you will be able to measure starting now.

This can be another challenge for many leaders in ministry. Some people don’t even like the mention of measuring things associated with the church. I would like to remind you that there are many examples of measuring things throughout the Bible. We know how many people Jesus fed, we know how many were saved on Pentecost , we even know the number of fish Simon Peter dragged ashore so the disciples could have breakfast with the risen Christ. (see John 21:11) Counting things, or measuring results, are not bad. As long as we are counting what counts to God.

Another challenge in the church world is that some of the most important things do not have a clear way for us to measure them. For example, a church may want to focus on growing disciples. A great goal, but how would you measure that? Great question! This is where we need to find some indicator we can measure and come to peace using it and realizing there may not be any way to “prove” we have been fruitful. Using the example above of growing disciples, I might suggest the church use something like the percentage of the congregation serving, or in a Christian community group (Sunday school, small group, Celebrate Recovery, Women’s or Men’s ministry, etc.), or financial giving. Would any of those be “proof” the church was growing disciples. No. But they could certainly be a great indicator.

Once you have an area of focus to measure, the next step is to identify a way to impact that measurement each week. This is usually much more challenging than just coming up with a goal or area of focus. In the book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, author Sean Covey talks about the difference between “lag” and “lead” measures.

  • Lag = measures the goal
  • Lead = is predictive (measures something that leads to the goal), and is influenceable (something we can influence)

Here is an example most of us can relate to – losing weight. Let’s say we set a goal to lose 20 pounds. When we step on the scale that is a lag measurement. It is important because it is how we measure our goal, or progress toward our goal. But it is only measuring the results. We also need to identify one or two lead measurements. In this example, we might measure our calorie intake and our steps each day. By staying under a certain number of calories and taking the right number of steps, we will eventually see the results we want and achieve our goal.

Now is your opportunity to make this discussion real.

  • What is a real goal you want to set for yourself or your ministry?
  • What is the measurement for that goal?
  • What are the one or two lead measures you will use to ensure will achieve this goal?

The mission Christ gave us is too important for us to just hope we drift into a more fruitful ministry. As leaders in the church it is our responsibility to take an active role in this process. Yes, it is challenging. But remember, God is with us!

Here are a few suggested next steps:

  1. Read the book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Sean Covey.
  2. Work with a professional coach who can provide encouragement, resources, and accountability.
  3. Schedule a special session with your team to identify a Wildly Important Goal and the appropriate lag and lead measurements.

Check out my church leadership online webinars at:

Ken Willard, PCC

Author | Professional Certified Coach |


Succession Planning


On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr in Washington D.C. Vice President George H. W. Bush was in Texas at the time. During the chaos which ensued at the White House, Reagan’s Secretary of State, Al Haig, went on TV to try and calm the country. However, he committed a serious PR faux pas by saying, “I, Al Haig, am in control here at the White House.” While Haig was just trying to calm a worried country, some people thought he was either ignorant of, or trying to go around the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which already established a succession to the Presidency in case of death.

What has been your experience with succession planning? Chances are, you have not thought much about it in the course of your day-to-day leadership. We are going to look at two sides to succession planning, and my hope is that you will find value in this discussion. . . no matter what the size or type of church or organization you find yourself.

First, let’s look at a definition of the term from Wikipedia:

  • Succession planning is a process for identifying and developing new leaders who can replace old leaders when they leave, retire or die. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available.

The first type of succession planning we are going to look at is based on the definition above from Wikipedia. We are going to expand it to include not just leaders in the church, but everyone who performs anything you consider an essential role or position. (paid staff, un-paid ministry leaders, other key leaders, other vital roles, etc.) Try to make this as real as possible, by actually writing down the names of everyone on your staff, team, or area of responsibility.

There are several factors to consider when thinking about succession planning. Census data shows over three million people turn 66 each year in our country. And this number is growing each year as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age. The days of people working for one company their whole life is likely a thing of the past. In fact, some research shows that people in the U.S. tend to stay with a single employer for just over four years. And then there is the popular, “hit by a bus” part of the equation. (Not sure why it is always a bus.)

No matter how you slice it, chances are good that if you have a team of six or more people, at least one of them will need to be replaced in the next 12 months. You have two choices, you can choose to ignore that until it actually happens. This is the most popular route for too many leaders. We wait until someone turns in their two-week notice, and then start scrambling to replace them. Or, you can invest some time now in preparation and planning.

Here is what this first level of succession planning might look like in a typical church:

  1. List out all of the people in the team who are in a position of leadership, or are performing some type of essential role in your area of responsibility.
  2. Identify their potential back-up. Who has the potential to step into each person’s role?
  3. What training and/or other type of preparation will each back-up person require in order to be successful in their new role?
  4. Where do you have gaps? In other words, where is there no logical back-up person for a key position?
  5. What action needs to take place in order to fill all of our gaps?

As stated before, this is really just one side of the succession planning process. However, just completing the steps listed above will put you in a small group of leaders who are not waiting for situations to happen to them, but are preparing now to get ahead of the inevitable. So congratulations to you if you are willing to complete those five important steps!

The other side of a successful succession planning process is missed by most churches and organizations. This is where we look at the people side, and not focus solely on the positions. Remember that listing of your team you wrote out before? Now look at each name. Try to set aside for the time being your need to fill positions or the needs of the church, and focus just on each person. What are their strengths? What are their gifts? What potential do they have beyond their current position? What are their wants and desires in relationship to their career? This side of succession planning can and should connect with the other side, but it is too often left out of the equation. Schedule time, outside of any performance review conversation, to sit down with each person on your team to better understand where they see themselves going in their career path. This investment of time and energy will pay off with huge dividends in the total succession planning process.

While you and your church or organization will never need to have anything as formal as our 25th Amendment in place to deal with succession planning, smart leaders are proactive in preparing for open positions AND growing those on their team.

Here are a few suggested next steps:

  1. Schedule an off-site retreat with your leadership team to put together a succession plan for your organization. Working with an outside facilitator will free you up to be more involved in the process.
  2. Read the book, Leaders Made Here by Mark Miller.
  3. Work with a professional coach who can provide encouragement, resources, and accountability.

Contact me if you are interested in learning more or want me to work with you and your team.

Check out my church leadership online webinars at:


First-Time Guests


As I’m writing this, we are just days away from Easter. As exciting as that news is for us as Christians, it also means we are heading into one of the busiest times of the year for our churches. The three highest attended weekends for most churches are Easter, Christmas, and Mother’s Day. Chances are very good your church will see a substantial increase in both attendance, and first-time guests those weekends.

While some people/families who come to your church for the first time during those seasons are of course “church” people who only attend a few times a year – somewhere in the mix will be people who are “unchurched” (do not have a home church, may not have been in church for many years…if ever)

After dozens of church consultations, hundreds of mystery guest visits (reports from Faith Perceptions), and reading many books and articles, here are my top ten recommendations/reminders:

  1. Walk outside the church and look at the building from where you expect most new people will park. If you had never been to your church before, could you tell where to enter? New guests need good directional signing.
  2. Where possible, ask your greeters to stand outside and open the doors for everyone. If that is not possible, please open the doors before someone reaches them. Be sure your greeters are not engaged in their own conversations when people are arriving.
  3. Take a good look at the nursery and children’s ministry areas. Are they clean and organized? Have someone remove anything being stored in those rooms. (upright pianos, chairs, etc.)
  4. How long is your “meet & greet” time? This is a very uncomfortable time for many unchurched first-time guests. If it is normally more than two minutes, consider cutting it back at least for this weekend. (see 10 Reasons Guests Don’t Return to Your Church by Thom S. Rainer)
  5. Be sure to welcome everyone, but offer a special welcome to anyone who may be attending for the first time. [Please don’t ask them to raise their hands, or stand and introduce themselves. Yes, those are still happening in some churches.]
  6. Ask everyone to fill out a connections card, pew pad, etc….First-time guests will typically follow the people around them. If no one else fills it out, they will not either. Best Practice: “If this is your first time here, welcome! We want you to know that a $10 donation will be made in your honor to Nothing-But-Nets for every first-time card we receive. That ten dollars will buy a mosquito net which may save a child’s life.”
  7. Review your worship service and bulletin for anything which might be “insider” language. Would someone who has never been to any church before understand what you are doing and saying in worship? Remember, it is not about changing what we do as much as it is welcoming people to join us. For example, many churches really love their times of call-and-response. (The pastor says something, and the congregation responds.) Believe it or not, these are different in every church. So even “church” people can feel lost. Unchurched people tend to feel not included.
  8. What is your plan for following up on first-time guests who leave their information? The 24-48 hours after their visit is critical. If you receive a phone number, that is always the best way to reach out to a new guest. A short call from the pastor, or trained connections person, during a time you expect to reach them. “Hi Kay, this is pastor Mike at First United Methodist Church. I see where you visited our church for the first time this weekend. I just wanted to call and say ‘thanks!’ We would love to have you come back and see us again. In fact, next weekend I’m starting a series on bible myths. Is there anything I can answer for you at this point? – Less than a minute total. (unless they initiate a conversation)
    • If you don’t get a phone number, then an email the next day is good too. If you only receive an address, then a postcard/letter should be the last option.
  9. The time right after the service ends is very important for first-time guests. Church people tend to either run for the doors, or gather with people they already know. Recruit a few people to watch for new faces and be sure they are made to feel welcome.
  10. First-time guests with children often run late. Be sure there are still greeters in place, space available in the nursery and children’s ministry rooms, and seats in the back on the aisle.

There are of course many more, but ten seems to be a good place to stop.

I recently read the book, Becoming a Welcoming Church by Thom S. Rainer. It is very good and I would recommend it to everyone – especially those in charge of the hospitality ministry. It is a quick read, but has many great points.

God is calling us to reach the lost ONE.

Let’s be sure they feel welcome when they come to our churches.

Check out my church leadership online webinars at:


Mind the Gap


The term “mind the gap” is a visual or audible warning to subway passengers to be careful while crossing the spatial gap between the station platform and the train door. The origin of the phrase is typically attributed to being introduced in 1969 on the London Underground in the United Kingdom.

This is a great reminder for leaders everywhere. We too must mind the gap. While there are many different gaps we need to be aware of as leaders in our organization, let’s focus today on just three main areas: communication, values, and goals. Let’s look first at communication.




As leaders, we are constantly communicating. In fact, if we are honest, it can sometimes feel like we are communicating the same things over and over again. We must be very cautious when we begin to feel this way. People tend to fill any real or perceived gaps in communication with their own stories. That can be very dangerous to any team or organization.

Here is an analogy which might help. Imagine a marathon race with a field of runners so large that the start must be staggered. In other words, a group of runners start, then after a few seconds another group of runners start, and so on. The runners are not racing as much against each other as they are the clock. If the field was large enough, it might be possible that the last group of runners were just starting as the first group was finishing. How might the last group feel watching the first runners cross the finish line? Challenged? Defeated? Encouraged? As leaders we are often way out in front of our team. We are the ones creating the strategy, making the plans, determining the course for our organization. We need to ensure the communication is clear and consistent to everyone. Chances are good that when we are getting tired of talking about something, there are those on our team who are just hearing it for the first time.

Now let’s look at values. What are the values of your organization? (As long as you’re looking, go ahead and find your mission and vision too.) Every organization has values. You may or may not have taken the time to identify them, but they are there nonetheless. Values are what guide your decisions, plans, and how you treat people both internal and external throughout your organization. Think of them like the banks of a large river, determining the course and speed.

If your organization has identified your values, take an honest look at them and see if they are real or aspirational. If people within and outside your organization were asked to list the values which come to mind when they think of your organization, would their list match yours? Remember Enron? Guess what, their values were: communication, respect, and integrity! What a gap between what they said were their values and their actions and behaviors. Your gap is certainly not that big. However, there very well may be a gap in your stated values and your actions and behaviors. As a leader, you must own this gap. It is not too late. Start today. Communicate your values again throughout your organization, and intentionally work on living into those values.

The final area we are going to look at for closing gaps is goals. Does your organization have goals for this year? How about you, do you have personal goals for the year? If you have one or both, take them out now. Too many leaders and organizations create goals, and then file them away and forget about them until the end of the year. This behavior creates a gap in importance. Creating goals but then forgetting about them sends the message that this is just an activity to complete, not a priority we feel will make any difference in ourselves or our organization. Again, it is not too late. Establish a habit now of reviewing goals at least monthly. Put it on your calendar. Share it with someone who can hold you accountable. Consider working with a coach who might help you with this habit.

The other gap in many goals is the “why.” If you are familiar with SMART goals, this is the “S” – Specific. Why are you setting this goal? In my work with both individual leaders and organizations, this is the component missing most often. I would also share that it is my belief that this is the single most important component to ensure the success of a goal. Two things tend to lead to this gap. First, the reason why the goal is being set seems to be so obvious there is no reason to state it on paper. When organizations create a gap by leaving the “why” out of their goals, everyone tends to fill that gap with their own “why.” At best, this creates confusion. At worst, this creates conflict. The second thing which tends to lead to this gap is too much focus on the “M” or measurement component. As important as the measurement component might be, it should never be the main focus of a goal. When the “why” piece is missing in a goal, the measurement component tends to become the whole goal. And those types of goals are rarely accomplished.

Here are a few suggested next steps:

  • Have an honest conversation with your team about communication. Be sure to include peers, supervisors, and those who report to you. Assess where you are, then make plans to improve. Try to listen without getting defensive.
  • Read, Time Management for the Christian Leader to learn more about setting SMARTER goals for yourself and your church. You can find it on Amazon
  • Check out my blog on SMARTER goals here
  • Work with a coach who can be a partner with you on the journey to close the gaps!

Check out my church leadership online webinars at:



Accountability is NOT a Bad Word


What comes to mind when you hear the word “accountability?”

For most people in our culture today, the word immediately brings to mind some form of punitive action. Too often, accountability shows up when something goes wrong and people are looking to lay blame. The finger pointing begins. “Sales are down this quarter. Someone is going to be held accountable!”

In the book, Winning with Accountability, Henry J. Evans says,

“Accountability should not be defined as a punitive response to something going wrong. Accountability means preventing something from going wrong.”

Achieving our organization’s mission and vision begins with accountability.

  • Mission-focused organizations front-load accountability into all of their strategies.
  • Leaders must establish a culture of accountability where it will be anticipated and expected.
  • Accountability is about achieving our goals and not fear or stress.

Hypocrisy exists in the space between language and action.

What happens when an organization or a leader says one thing, but their actions say something else? Employees, customers, vendors, suppliers, and everyone else will soon stop trusting them and assume their words are of little value. Have you heard or thought any of these types of quotes about a company?

  • “My company says they value new ideas, but we keep doing things the old way.”
  • “The sign in the window indicated the business was accredited by the Better Business Bureau, but I feel like I was ripped off.”
  • “The company leaders say they value diversity, but everyone in charge looks alike.”

In accountable cultures everyone holds each other accountable for their commitments in a positive and productive manner.

Accountability is born with two or more people know about a commitment.

The key first step for accountability is clearly communicating our expectations to those who are responsible. As leaders, this would include not just those who report directly to us, but also those who we may be influencing throughout our leadership circle. One tool which can help ensure you have clearly communicated your expectations to others is a S.M.A.R.T. goal.

Specific – Have I described and provided a visual of the behaviors and deadlines required for this task? Do they know what “success” will look like? Do they understand the “why” we are doing this? ***This is by far the most important element of any S.M.A.R.T. goal.

Measurable – Can my request be measured? Does it have a clearly defined completion point? When it’s all said and done, can you actually measure if the goal was achieved?

Actionable – Will this drive people to actually “do” something or maybe change a behavior?

Results-Oriented – Will this request move us closer to our vision? We don’t need more tasks that just create work . . . we need to see tangible results.

Time-Based – Will those who are involved clearly see and hear completion dates and/or clear milestone dates? Can we write this request on a calendar and break it down into smaller steps?

While positive accountability may not be easy, it can be SIMPLE.

  • Set Expectations – never assume, be clear and focused. SMART goals are a great tool.
  • Invite Commitment – Just because someone knows what to do, doesn’t mean they will do it. Explain how the goal will benefit them and the organization. Connect what they want to what the company needs to achieve.
  • Measure Progress – Reward completion . . . but recognize steps along the way. Periodically let people know how they are doing. Ask what they need—what is getting in the way? Remove obstacles. Good goals are always measurable.
  • Provide Feedback – Honestly share how you feel. Be clear, don’t make them guess. Feedback is a gift, be sincere. Intent is more important than technique.
  • Link to Consequences – What will happen if they are successful? What will happen if they are not? Not about punishments, focus on the mission and vision.
  • Evaluate Effectiveness – Focus on the results, not the effort. What worked and what did not? What should have been done? What did they learn? Be systematic and consistent.

Take a look at your own organization and especially your personal leadership style. How would you describe the current accountability culture? Positive or punitive? No matter where you are today, it is never too late to take steps toward a more positive accountability culture. But it will not happen by accident or by wishing. Make some plans now to take one small step in the direction of positive accountability. Your team and your whole organization will be benefit from your efforts.

Here are a few suggested resources:

  • Winning with Accountability by Henry J. Evans
  • Time Management for the Christian Leader by Ken Willard
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  • Leadership 101: What Every Leader Need to Know by John C. Maxwell
  • Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen R. Covey

Contact me if you are interested in hosting a Leadership seminar on accountability, setting SMART goals, or several other leadership topics.

Check out my church leadership online webinars at:



Leaders Grow Leaders

three small tree isolated on white

Organizations of all types are hungry for leaders. We are at an interesting point in time when a very large generation of leaders, Baby Boomers, are starting to retire or at least step back from leadership positions they have held for years. Another very large generation of leaders, Millennials, are just starting to move into key leadership positions. This transition of leaders can be challenging for many organizations. How about you? What is your plan to grow, develop, and prepare leaders in your organization?

Leaders tend to learn best from other leaders. This is one reason your current leaders are the best resource your organization has to identify and grow your future leaders. Are you familiar with the term, succession planning? In many cases, leaders and organizations only view succession planning as reactive. A key person has left, or is leaving soon, and the company needs a plan to replace them. Succession planning can and should be more proactive. Leaders and the company working together to grow and develop the next leaders. Effective succession planning involves four strategies of development:

  1. Identifying potential leaders. There are many great tools to help with this process. The key is to have a pool larger than your anticipated needs.
  2. Equipping them to develop their leadership skills. This involves having an intentional plan, personalized to each leader.
  3. Mentoring them to be effective. Partnering up each potential leader with a current leader who can walk with them as they grow and develop.
  4. Empowering them to use their leadership skills. Research shows that the single biggest way to grow a leader is to give them a project they can lead.

So what do you look for in potential leaders? When hiring and promoting leaders, many times we focus too much on a person’s experience, education, and technical skills. Those are important, but should only be the baseline and not the only areas we look for in our potential leaders. Here are a few other areas I would strongly suggest we look for in new leaders:

  • Character – evidence of honesty, teachability, humility, reliability, a healthy work ethic, willingness to serve others.
  • Competence – ability to do the job, experience, education, talents, and skills.
  • Chemistry – the ability to fit into the culture and work with teams of other people.
  • Conviction – passionate about the mission, vision, and values of the organization.
  • Commitment – devoted to growing as a leader. Willing to work on their own growth and development.
  • Courage – willing to take a chance, push the envelope, and challenge the status quo.

Remember, there are some things you can teach . . . and some you cannot.

We can teach someone how to use Microsoft Office products, or how to fill out an expense report, or most of the other technical aspects of a leadership job. However, teaching the six “C” areas listed above are very unlikely. We can encourage them. We can add fuel to the fire if they are already in place in a person. But teaching them to a person is a whole different story.

Let’s look now at a few ways to equip leaders once you have identified them. First, determine the key competencies leaders in your organization need in order to be successful. (e.g. decision making, interpersonal skills, time management, emotional intelligence, conflict management, communication skills, problem solving, accountability, etc.) As you work with each individual leader, identify a competency where they are strong and one they need to develop. Have them put together a plan for each.

Another way to equip leaders is to invest in them. Leaders are readers. There are many great leadership books. Buy them a new book each month and ask them to share what they are learning with others. Here are a few of my favorite books for new leaders:

  • Good to Great by James Collins;
  • Monday Morning Leadership by David Cottrell;
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham;
  • Leadership and the One-Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard;
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell; and
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

Send them to a leadership training event. Hire a leadership coach to work with them. It is less important how you are investing in each leader. What is important is for you to invest in their leadership development.

One of the wonderful aspects of today’s world is that great leadership development is available to all organizations. No matter what your size or budget. One of the greatest challenges for leadership development today is the pace of our lives at work and everywhere. We are often going so fast there is no time available to develop and grow ourselves, much less new leaders. That is the paradox of leadership development. It is not too late. Grow the leaders in your organization, including yourself, today so that you will be prepared for tomorrow.

Here are a few suggested next steps:

1) Put together a plan to grow yourself and the leaders around you.

2) Read the book Leaders Made Here by Mark Miller.

3) Work with a professional leadership coach who can provide encouragement, resources, and accountability.

  • I am an ICF certified coach, and would love to schedule a FREE first call to explore a coaching journey with you and answer any questions you might have about coaching.

4) Engage with a professional leadership trainer and facilitator to work with you and your team. [like me 🙂 ]

5) Attend a leadership event of some type.

6) Check out my church leadership online webinars at: 

Contact me if you are interested in hosting a Leadership seminar. Topics include:

  • Accountable Leadership
  • Growing New Leaders
  • Creating a Leadership Culture
  • Servant Leadership
  • Time Management for the Christian Leader
  • Setting Goals
  • Basic Coaching Skills
  • Conflict Resolution Skills
  • Strategic Ministry Planning


Leaders Step INTO the Fire


firefighter-24First responders are amazing people. These men and women run toward dangerous situations, while the rest of us run away. Yes, that is part of their training. However, I also believe that these courageous individuals are wired different from other people. Studies have found that when people are put in stressful or threatening situations, changes in the brain functioning occur. The more sophisticated frontal-lobe portion of the brain—which is responsible for planning, impulse control, problem solving, and organizing—shuts down. Most of the brain’s activity is registered in the amygdala, which is in a more primitive part of the brain. This triggers the “fight-or-flight” responses that are geared toward self-protection. The same type of changes in brain functions happen when a person gets angry, is insulted, or generally feels threatened. I’m sure we can all recall times where we were in environments that were not physically threatening, but a person or a situation was making us feel so uncomfortable we started having trouble thinking clearly or even communicating coherently.


“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” Laurence J. Peter

What does all this have to do with leading in the workplace? While most leaders are not dealing with life-threatening situations each day, we are often encountering conflict which causes stress and thus lowers productivity. In the wonderful book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni makes the case that constructive conflict can be beneficial in any organization. He defines constructive conflict as engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate about ideas. Too often, conflict in our places of work (and other places) is anything but constructive.

Recognizing the sources of conflict is fundamental to understanding and working through conflict. Some conflict situations are easily resolved, while others seem almost impossible. Often, the source of the conflict determines how easy it is to resolve the conflict. Here are the four main sources of conflict:

  1. Facts – People can see the same facts differently, or they can disagree on what the facts are in a situation. Conflicts over the facts are often the easiest conflicts to manage because they can be resolved by sharing information or getting reliable data.
  2. Methods – People can also disagree on how to do something. Since conflict over methods assumes a common goal, it can usually be resolved by problem solving.
  3. Goals – People can disagree over goals, where the disagreement is around what should be done. Collaboration—working together to come to an agreement on goals—can help solve these conflicts.
  4. Values – People can also disagree over values, or basic principles or beliefs. This is the most difficult kind of conflict to resolve because people identify strongly with their values. Values are deeply rooted and people resist changing them.

The sources of conflict become progressively more difficult to resolve as you move down the list from facts to values. Fortunately, knowing the source of conflict and verbalizing it can go a long way toward minimizing the conflict or resolving it altogether.

When we don’t know how to handle conflict, little troubles can become lethally toxic. People tend to display three types of toxic reactions: they brood (usually demonstrated by total withdrawal from the conversation; they blow-up (usually disproportional to the issue); they triangulate (telling their side to others to gain support), we triangulate because we lack trust in others or self-confidence in ourselves. None of these will resolve the conflict. The quickest resolution between two points of contention is always 1-to-1 conversation.  Over the years, we have all acquired preferences to how we deal with conflict. Influences likely include how we have seen other leaders deal with conflict, watching and copying other role models, even our experiences with conflict at home. There are generally five recognized ways to handle conflict:

  1. Avoid (I lose, you lose) – While leaders should not make a habit of avoiding conflict, there are times where it may be appropriate. When you are unprepared and/or when passions are too high to make the conversation productive. In these cases it might be best to deal with the conflict at another time.
  2. Accommodate (I lose, you win)This style might be appropriate with you value the relationship higher than the issue causing conflict. Be careful from using this style just to avoid conflict altogether. Leaders should be seen as cooperative, not weak.
  3. Compromise (We both win, we both lose) – True compromising involves honesty and reasonableness. This style will usually resolve the conflict quickly, but may be a challenge in the long run due to neither party feeling totally positive about the outcomes.
  4. Compete (I win, you lose) – Best used when the outcome is extremely important and the relationship is of little importance. Overused this style can have a very detrimental effect.
  5. Collaborate (I win, you win) – Both parties are trying to resolve a common problem to a mutually satisfying outcome. Each party starts by sharing information instead of concessions. Using this style takes time and an investment from both parties. While there is no “right” style, collaborating is generally seen as the most appropriate style.

In most cultures a “hero” is someone who runs into a dangerous situation without thinking about themselves. Much like the first responders mentioned earlier. A true leader is someone who steps into a conflict situation to resolve it instead of turning away. No leader will ever bat 1,000 when it comes to dealing with conflict. However, all of us can get a little better over time. Set the goal to grow your leadership skills this year. One great place to start is how you deal with conflict. Be a leader, step into the fire!

Here are a few suggested next steps to grow your conflict resolution skills:

1) Visit the HRD Press website ( and order Dealing with Conflict Instrument. This is a great tool for identifying your preferred style and learning more about the appropriate uses of each style.

2) Read the book Crucial Confrontations by Petterson and Grenny.

3) Work with a professional coach who can partner with you in a confidential and results focused process.

4) Engage with a professional trainer and facilitator to work with you and your team. Contact me if you are interested in hosting a Conflict Resolution Skills seminar.

5) Check out my church leadership online webinars at: