the shape of leadership

Great Communication

Building and shaping culture, Part 3

Chris Railey on May 25, 2018


Whether you’re starting or inheriting a church, ministry or organization, culture will be key in getting your agenda off the ground. Every leader has a calling to build and shape culture. The goal is to move from a dysfunctional or burdensome culture to a healthy one that can fulfill the vision God has placed in your heart.

In the first part of this series, I reviewed the five stages of building and shaping culture. The pressure point of that process is the move from the tension to resolution stage. Your ability to build and shape culture is dependent on your ability to lead change well.

Last week, we looked at the role of trust in leading change. Communication is the second skill of building and shaping culture.

It’s a no-brainer that in leadership, ministry, and especially marriage, communication is essential in creating a healthy culture. But not many of us are great communicators.

We can be gifted teachers, anointed preachers or skilled speakers. Yet when it comes to organizational communication, we can drop the ball. Informal communication has to become more formal as your organization becomes more complex.

Expectation and Performance

One of the greatest leadership lessons I’ve ever learned was the idea that there is a gap between expectation and performance. We all have expectations for those around us, whether it’s our staff members or even our spouse or children.

We carry with us expectations for a certain performance from every relationship in our lives. Often, the performance does not quite meet the expectation, and the gap between those two points is frustration.

The secret sauce in developing a healthy culture is closing the gap between expectation and performance. If you can successfully narrow that gap, you have a better chance of building a positive culture. But as you grow, you will find the gap widening.

Perhaps you’re hiring more staff, redefining job descriptions or reassigning current personnel. The more complex your organization and the more key leaders you have, the more difficult communication becomes and the wider the gap becomes.

If you’re having some frustration with someone in your life, where do you think it comes from? This gap can explain every relational function you have, whether in your church, your organization or your home.

The secret sauce in developing a healthy culture is closing the gap between expectation and performance.

Think of it this way. Let’s say I leave my house in the morning and tell my wife I’ll be home at 5:30. Her expectation is that she’ll see me again at half past 5. So, she prepares dinner and will have it on the table when I get home so that we can make it to our son’s baseball practice at 6:30.

Now, just as I’m ready to leave for the day, someone comes into my office with an emergency. They just have to meet with me. Because I love people and want to help, I give that person my time. But because of the delay, I don’t make it home until 6:45.

The expectation was that I would be home at 5:30, but my performance was that I was more than an hour late. What could I have done to shrink that gap? Communicate with my wife. Sending a short text or even making a quick phone call to let her know I’d be home late would have solved a big issue later on. Without communication, the gap widens.

Closing the Gap

We often fail to manage the gap and fail to talk. The bigger the difference between expectation and performance, the greater the tension. And remember that we’re trying to move from tension to resolution. Can you see how clear communication is vital to that end?

Communication closes the gap. Clear and simple. Great communication goes both ways. Start building a culture where you listen as much as you speak, where people know their voices are heard and understand the importance of staying in communication. That’s the key to resolving tensions.

What are some roadblocks to communication? First of all, we can’t read other people’s minds. The only expectation I know of is the one somebody communicates to me. The same goes for my team. I can only expect them to perform to the standards I clearly convey to them.

Another way to block communication is to blame it on workload. I never want a staff person to tell me, “I was going to tell you, but you were so busy.” We all get busy, but if we use that as an excuse to stop communicating, then we will ultimately fail. With every task comes the responsibility of communicating back and forth.

Changing Communication

For many, you had informal means of communication in the early stages. But now your church has grown, both in number and complexity. Perhaps you have staff who are bivocational, work remotely or are at a different campus. You will need to replace informal ways of communicating with a more formal structure.

Maybe you begin to hold 30-minute check-in meetings every Wednesday with your key leaders. Or perhaps you send an email by the end of each Friday to follow up on important matters. What you may have previously handled through a text message or while passing one another in the hallway now needs to go through specific channels to close that gap.

Your communication also needs to change from being a great speaker before large groups to speaking one-on-one into the lives of those you lead. It’s called HOT communication: honest, open and transparent. This is vital when communicating difficult things.

Instead of speaking around an issue, go to the last 10 percent and say what you need to communicate. That type of honest communication only works when we speak truth in love.

As leaders, we need to set the expectation for the way we want the rest of the team to communicate. As we’re building culture and leading change well, we need good communication.

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