the shape of leadership

Taking Initiative

Building and shaping culture, Part 4

Chris Railey on June 1, 2018


Culture is vital as you continue to grow in your church or organization. Whether you’re starting something from the ground up or taking over something well established, as the leader it is up to you to build and shape the culture you need to fulfill the vision God gave you.

Every new model of automobile has new features, but that also increases the risk that something will go wrong and you will need to put it in the shop. Similarly, your group will become more complex as you grow. That means the likelihood of problems will increase. Instead of avoiding problems, building a strong culture means you can overcome any problem you encounter.

Navigating the stages of building culture is really about leading change in a way that allows you to move from tension to resolution. Trust and communication will cement the vision for your people, but initiative is what gets you through to the end goal.

Having a team that intuitively takes initiative is important to building a healthy culture. I’d rather people try and fail than never take the initiative at all. In the Parable of the Bags of Gold in Matthew 25, two of the servants worked hard, showing great initiative. But there was one who buried his gold, afraid of losing it. Of course, this servant lost out in the end because of his lack of initiative.

We’ve all had people on our team who bury their talent, make excuses or simply don’t try. They never took initiative and always waited for someone to tell them what to do. A healthy and strong culture has a team full of people who take initiative.

Another Gap

If communication is about closing the gap between expectation and performance, initiative is about closing the gap between problem and solution. This involves reducing the amount of time it takes from identifying a problem to producing a solution to that problem. It also means the problem solver can get going with little to no external motivation.

This may be the most important leadership skill in any context. Success as a leader comes down to identifying and solving problems as they arise. We spend a lot of time avoiding problems or minimizing risk. But the truth is, in an imperfect world, there will be problems. How you handle them and how quickly you do that can make the difference.

The more time it takes between seeing a problem and solving it, the less credibility we have as leaders. Problems, when left unsolved, will chip away at your ability to lead.

If you’ve ever put your house on the market and sold it, this will make sense to you. How you view your living space is vastly different when you begin to think about potential buyers looking at your home. You’ll begin to see all the problems in your home you neglected for years.

Success as a leader comes down to identifying and solving problems as they arise.

The scratch on the wall from my son’s baseball bat that I never painted over. Or the loose board on the deck that we just got used to. At one time, we said, “I’ll fix that next week.” But next week became next month and then next year. And we never fixed the problem.

Think in terms of your church. You have all kinds of people coming into your “living space” for the first time, evaluating your service, your campus and your vision. Whether they come back and become a part of your church will be determined by how well you have solved problems that are identifiable.

When the gap between a problem and solution grows, your ability to lead will shrink. Initiative will close that gap.

See It and Solve It

One reason the gap between problem and solution become so wide is that we only go halfway. It’s often easy to see a problem. But how well do you and your team do when it comes to finding a solution? When we present problems without a solution, that often signals a lack of initiative.

I love the show Shark Tank. Not only is it entertaining to watch entrepreneurs and leaders hone their craft, but it’s also a great way to learn how to close the gap between problem and solution. Each invention is really a solution to a problem that many have identified.

Of course, if it only took identifying problems, we could all get on the show — but that would be boring. The real heroes are those who come up with the best fixes rather than just identifying what’s wrong in the world.

Apostolic and dynamic leaders are those who not only see what’s wrong but figure out a way to fix it. They take initiative whenever a problem pops up. Maybe they’ve noticed a generation or people group who have fallen away from God or never heard the gospel. They take initiative and find inroads to them.

That type of initiative begins small. These same leaders are the ones who flip on a light switch and see a bulb is burnt out. Instead of closing the door and waiting for the next person to do something, they change the bulb. If they see a spill on the floor, they clean it up. If they see someone in need, they spring into action.

They will even take initiative when the problem is not in their immediate area of oversight.

Do You Have What It Takes?

Lots of people are good at seeing problems, but not everyone is good at solving them. As leaders, we want to train for this and set the expectation.

I would rather my team member take the initiative and fail than sit back and wait for the best solution. Often, the best fix comes at the end of several failed attempts. But it’s initiative that gets the ball rolling toward the resolution.

Building a culture that impacts the world means you are moving from problem to solution. A team that sees solutions will gain respect and influence in the world around them. They won’t be seen as complainers but doers.

See also Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series.


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