by Peggy Hartshorn, Heartbeat International President
Is leadership an art or a science? Is leadership the same in the business world as it is in a Christian ministry? Is there an essential difference in the way that a man leads vs. the way a woman leads? Can a person learn to be a leader or is it an innate gift or skill?
Leadership is a complex subject and there are many opinions about the questions above, as well as many other deep, almost philosophical questions that can be asked about this subject. As I think about leadership within a pregnancy help ministry (a center, clinic, maternity home, adoption agency, or any other Heartbeat affiliated organization), one thing I can say for sure, however, is this: even though one person may be seen by almost all as “the leader,” it is not a healthy situation when there is only ONE person in leadership. This may sound contradictory, but let me try to explain what I mean.
At Heartbeat, in our conversations, e-mails, and person visits to our affiliates, we have observed that often one person, most frequently the director or executive director (sometimes in larger organizations called the CEO or President), feels the entire burden of the organization’s success or failure. This person is often “called” to the position, sometimes is the founder of the organization but often not, is totally dedicated to the mission, is multi-skilled, works very hard, and is looked to by almost everyone else (both inside and outside the organization) as the key person. You might say, “Well, what’s wrong with this picture”?
If this one leader is, in fact, the only person exercising leadership within the organization, if everyone else is a follower, here are some of the consequences that we have seen occur:
- The one leader will become disillusioned and discouraged and eventually burn out.
- The organization will eventually stagnate, since one person can only grow an organization so far.
- The one leader will squelch up-and-coming leaders, the very people who could take some of the burden and help the organization grow and develop.
- The one leader will eventually be leading the Board as well as the staff and volunteers and the burden will become so great that things will begin to fall apart and become dysfunctional, even to the point of endangering individuals and the organization itself.
- Eventually, the one leader may be forced out of the organization in a manner that is hurtful and leaves many people wounded.
Leadership, I believe, should be a shared function. A healthy organization should have a team of leaders working well together. This team is really the “horsepower” of the organization. One of my favorite sights, living as I do in the state of Ohio where we have the largest number of Amish people of any other state, is watching a team of horses, driven by a gifted Amish farmer, plowing the fields. It is a thing of beauty to see how the farmer, with slight movements of his hands on the reins, keeps these powerful beings working in unison. I’m sure it is not as easy as it seems. It takes a lot of learning and probably years of experience to steer such a team. If one horse is pulling too hard, he may be pulling all the other horses too! If one horse is not in step, the work is much harder, and there can even be injury.
Who are all the leaders within an organization? Well, that depends on how large the organization is and in what stage of development. But we can start with at least two in every organization: the executive director (ED) and the chairperson of the Board. Each has a sphere of authority in which to lead: the ED leads the staff and most of the volunteers; the Board chairperson leads the Board members and any other people who work with the Board (e.g. some Boards may work with consultants or have volunteers who work with the members on committees, etc.).
If the ED feels like he or she is also leading the Board, something is wrong. Sometimes the ED mistakenly thinks that leading the Board is his or her job (it is not), or the ED begins leading the Board because no one on the Board has “stepped up to the plate.” If the chairperson of the Board is leading the staff and the office volunteers, something is wrong (unless you are in the start-up phase or an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff). Sometimes if the chairperson of the Board is leading the staff, it means that the Board has no confidence in the ED, or the Board chairperson mistakenly thinks it is his or her job to lead the staff (it is not).
The most common reason for NOT having both a staff leader (the ED) and a Board leader (the Board chairperson) is that the Board members do not understand their role in the organization. They may mistakenly think that they are in an advisory role and that their job is to be cheerleaders behind the ED, or simply “prayer partners” for the ED and staff. They do not realize that there are LOTS of jobs that Board members should be doing and that they have a responsibility to govern the entire organization. These jobs and the govern responsibility are discussed thoroughly in Heartbeat’s Board manual called GOVERN Well™. Also, Heartbeat consultants are available to come to your organization and provide a specific training for your Board members and ED on Board responsibilities and jobs.
If Board members do not accept their responsibilities to truly govern, the entire organization can be in jeopardy. In fact, there is a state of organizational development called “Decline and Dissolution” and it is often caused by a failing Board. A Board often fails if and when a strong ED tries to lead both the staff and the Board, a feat that is humanly impossible to do well.
Let me share what a positive scenario looks like, when there is leadership at both the staff and Board levels. At Heartbeat international, I am the overall leader, although we have many other staff leaders as well. Carla Cole leads the staff in fulfilling our strategic plan as effectively and efficiently as possible. Jor-El Godsey leads the Ministry Services team, and within that team, Betty McDowell leads all the trainers and consultants who work with our affiliates. John Ensor leads the Mission Advancement team whose responsibility is communications and fundraising.
We have a very strong Board chairperson, John Cissel, who leads a Board of 12 members, leaders in their own right, some of whom lead specific functions on the Board (such as financial oversight).
John Cissel (the Board leader) and I (the staff leader), although not living in the same city, meet frequently by phone, sometimes touching base several times a week , by phone or e-mail, to keep each other updated on what is happening within our spheres of influence. I don’t try to do his job and he doesn’t try to do mine. John is always thinking of ways to engage our Board members and help them use their gifts and skills to advance Heartbeat.
Board members, in turn, often e-mail John or me (with copies to the other to keep both of us in the loop) with ideas or contacts that may help us or that relate to an issue or problem we are discussing at Board meetings. Our Board only meets in person twice each year, but three additional times by conference call. Yet, all Board members know each other well, know our staff, and are engaged in advancing Heartbeat and our mission. This is due to frequent communication between John, the Board leader and chairman, and Board members, and between John and me. John and I plan the Board meetings, and our annual two-day Board retreat, together. John conducts all the Board meetings and leads the Board retreat, but I have a central role in those meetings and in the retreat.
John frequently says to me, “The Board and I are here to support you and Heartbeat.” I feel and treasure that support and my partnership with John. I know that we are on the same team and are pulling together, a little bit like the two lead horses in that Amish farmer’s powerful team.
John always opens and closes every phone call meeting with me with prayer, so we are constantly calling on the Lord to bless our time together, and to bless each other in our roles as, for the present moment, the two key leaders of Heartbeat International.
It should not go without saying that the leaders whom I have described here are the human leaders of the ministry. But, of course, the power behind these human leaders should be the Lord. In fact, we are powerless to do good without Him. We should be on His plan, not just ask Him to bless ours. All the leaders within your organization must first and foremost be close to the Lord, listen to Him, obey Him, and let His light shine through them to others. You do not want a leader in place who is not in this kind of relationship with the Lord.
In work like ours that is, at its root, the struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness, the Devil will be working overtime to bring disunity and, even more so, chaos into our organizations. He loves to see us destroying everything good through our own sinfulness – through rivalry, jealousy, power plays, anger, impatience, control, competition – especially between and among the leaders of the ministry. If we are wounding or destroying each other, we make the Devil’s job easy – our ministries collapse from the inside out. Guard against this with all your might and seek God’s protection and grace to carry out your leadership role in building His kingdom (not yours!).