2 men holding briefcases and walking down a hallway talking with one another

What can you do to improve your leadership relationships?

Here are five key prenciples, including action steps (and responses) for the first three principles.

Understand yourself clearly

First, take a personal inner inventory. Answer the following questions, which look at motivations and goals.

  • What are your motivations; why are you interested in leading?
  • What are your personal goals in accepting leadership responsibility?
  • To what extent are you leading to meet your own needs?

Second, learn to “hot check” your motives in the midst of a leadership situation; that is, be emotionally mature enough to step outside of yourself and analyze your emotions in the midst of an intense situation. If you simply act on the basis of your unevaluated emotions, you probably feel confident that you are right- but you may actually be rigidly unwilling to entertain the possibility that you might be wrong.

Learn to be sensitive to the needs of your followers

Remember that every person in a church comes with a set of personal needs, with the core needs of acceptance and significance. These needs are at least in the background of every interaction the person has with you.

Often they are legitimately in the foreground. For example, when a person has a particular issue with which they need help, a struggling child or a dying parent, those needs are up front. But the core needs are there in every interaction. If you get exasperated and “blow off” a person’s question, you have impacted that person’s core need for acceptance and significance without even realizing it.

Will Schutz observed that people come into any relationship with three questions:

Inclusion: Am I in or out?

Control: Am I on top or on the bottom?

Openness: Am I open or closed?

To what extent do you think people come into the church situation with these questions in the back of their minds?

Learn to listen

The ability to listen is crucial to solid relationships and a sense of trust. Begin by giving the other person your full attention. Look directly at the person. Be sure your body language- how you sit or stand- communicates interest. Do not interrupt the speaker. Three tips for listening well are:

  • Withhold judgment until the person has finished speaking. Do not begin framing your answers while the person is still talking. Wait until you are certain you understand his position.
  • Ask clarifying questions to be sure you understand. Ask if there is more they want to say.
  • Resist the impulse to become defensive; learn to recognize defensive feelings within yourself.

Learn how to express genuine approval and acceptance to others

Every person wants to feel accepted and valued by those important to him or her. As leaders, when we make people feel they’re part of the team and express sincere appreciation for their efforts, they will be motivated to help further.

Learn how to handle difficult relationship issues.

Concerning this final step, note that Matthew 5:23-24 implies that even among people who are spiritual, there is the possibility of fractured relationships. Church conflict is one of the most painful experiences in the life of a church as well as in the individual lives of those involved. Long-term friendships can be shattered, distrust can infect ministry relationships, and ugly accusations can leave lingering wounds. Because of mishandled conflict, people will leave the church- some in sadness, in disillusionment, others in self-justifying anger. However, as painful as conflict can be, keep in mind- it is unhealthy if there was no conflict in a local church as well. Complete calm is no more a measure of spiritual maturity than a bright paint job is a measure of the structural integrity of a termite-infested house.

Relationships are messy because emotions, egos, and sanctification are messy. However, as a leader others are looking to you to bring order into that chaos. It will certainly take practice and prayer, but by checking your own emotions and motives, genuinely listening to and caring for the needs of those to whom you minister, and keeping the perspective that conflict is healthy, the Lord will use you as a peacemaker rather than a bulldozer. 

About the Contributors

Andrew Seidel

Andrew B. Seidel

Dr. Andrew B. Seidel served as executive director of the Hendricks Center at Dallas Seminary for fifteen years, which provides leadership training and development for seminary students as well as ministry and business leaders. A graduate of West Point and a colonel in the U.S. Army, Dr. Seidel was senior pastor at Grace Bible Church in College Station, Texas, for fourteen years. He left the pastorate to provide leadership training for pastors on the mission field in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Today he continues to work in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia with Entrust (formerly BEE International). The author of Charting a Bold Course; Training Leaders for 21st Century Ministry, Dr. Seidel and his wife Gail Norris Seidel have been married for more than fifty years and have two married children and six grandchildren.