As I interact with ministries and faith leaders, I often hear the word “stuck” or a synonym. As these leaders tease out their discontent for the status quo and dream aloud a bit about their hopes for the future, they inevitably express a desire for something “new” or “fresh.” In his leadership reflections, Simon Walker attempts a brief FAQ as an appendix at the end of his second work, Leading with Nothing to Lose, about troubleshooting leadership problems. My eyes were drawn to the word “stuck” in one of the questions. I’d like to evaluate his response as he attempts to usher in something new and fresh. The question posed to Walker reads as follows:
I’d like help with general troubleshooting. Often, I’m faced with teams that seem a bit stuck: they’re demotivated, apathetic, just kind of run out of gas. Mostly they become cynical, and then bitchy at the same time. As a result, they’re not only unproductive but also a negative influence on others in the organization. What should I do about such teams? (316-317)
Walker suggests the most important work will be to analyze the foundation. He writes, “Teams become apathetic when they have no clear sense of where they’re going, why they’re doing what they’re doing and whether it can be achieved” (316). In helping the team explore their understanding of the foundation, Walker suggests convening the team and see if they acknowledge the problem, and to get them to reflect on their foundation. He also acknowledges the way forward will be helping some find new roles. He then invites the leader to assess their own role as supervisor, and finally, to review the new agreements together periodically.
I agree with Walker’s prescription to analyze the foundation. I find that teams become apathetic and bored when they lose a sense of the goal and their self-efficacy of achieving that goal. Victim mentality persists, as does a spirit of paralysis. Walker summarizes it by saying, “They may be worn out, they may not think their work is worthwhile, they may not think it is doable.”
Where I find Walker’s answer insufficient is the exploration done only in conversation. This cognitive exercise alone isn’t enough to help this team get unstuck. Walker is helping teams believe their way into action, but as ritualistic and holistic beings, we need to also act our way into new types of believing. It’s engaging with fresh ideas and fresh processes that we further explore the foundational aspects of our mission, purpose, and values. I would include a new project, goal, or aim for this team to live out its expressed, new intent, lest they stay simply as that – good intents. New ways of problem-solving, new problems to solve, and new beliefs and attitudes can all work together to invigorate that which was stagnant. It’s possible to create our way into new types of creativity. It’s who we are as followers of Jesus, bringing springs to the desert, movement to the lame, and life to the dead.
Simon P. Walker, The Undefended Leader (Carlise, UK: Piquant, 2010).