Lately, I’ve been contemplating about how important structure is as it relates to leadership. I’ve challenged leaders and non-profit boards on the distinction between leaders and structure.
We often look to charismatic and dynamic leaders to lead our organization because we reason it’s all about leadership, leadership, leadership. I disagree. Leadership is only half of the equation. Most organizations fail to realize there must be structure for the organization to maintain growth and be assured of accountability by their leadership.
I can’t tell you how many churches and non-profit ministries have failed in this area of structure. When the charismatic founder, CEO, senior pastor, or executive director uses their gift of leadership in a way that is not beneficial to the organization, they often continue to operate because they are successful in the way they lead. I’m thinking of what happened recently with the social justice movement Black Lives Matter where millions of dollars are missing, according to news reports. The leadership was dynamic, and the cause was justified in most people's minds, but there was no structure holding the leadership accountable to the charter of their non-profit. We saw this in the James McDonald case, where money was one of the big reasons he was asked to resign from his position as Senior Pastor.
Structure is as important to the organization as any leader. As we define structure, let me outline a few pieces of structure that I see as essential to establish in the organization.
The culture of the organization is set by what structure is put into place. Usually, it is the leader that sets the organization’s culture, but I don’t think it is healthy for a single strong personality to set it. When the culture of an organization centers on a strong personality, it can, and often does, become abusive to staff, and liberties are taken that are not in context to the policies set forth. When the culture is built on a personality or giftedness of an individual, that’s a recipe for disaster. People are afraid to call any founder, president, or leader to account because of the fear of losing their job. That is why whistleblowers are protected in many industries. I’ve known of people in ministry positions who have experienced abuses and seen behavior that is not acceptable in the workplace, yet do not come forward because the culture of the organization is not set up for that to be a safe practice to do. When abuses are not reported, even though they are known, a culture is created where fear reigns.
Another part of structure that is critical to the health of the organization is the belief in people. Are people just a means to an end? Or, are people treated as an essential part of the success of the organization? In my ministry career, I’d say that most of my employment has been about the means to an end. A person’s value to the job is only predicated upon the giftings they bring to it. Usually, the care for the individual is non-existent … only the ability to do the job is important. Now, I understand that a person must have the capability to do the job, but is that all that matters? If that is all that is important, the organization has a worthless structure as it applies to how they see people.
You’ve have heard it said that people usually don’t quit the company … they quit their boss. Any structure that does not value people beyond a job title or performance, is a structure that needs revision. Churches are known to have some of the most notorious organizations for devaluing the importance of employees. Why? There is a culture in many churches that are structured around pastors and elder leaders where only the authority of those positions is valued … that can set up a hierarchy of importance that sets the culture of the church based upon position. Again, this organization needs revision of belief and practice, but it’s hard to make changes in attitudes when churches have always done it a certain way for so long.
I believe in the structure of purpose. Many organizations do not have a strong conviction about their purpose. They may continue to do their function, but do not know why they exist as an organization. For example, churches will usually take on the emphasis of the pastor. When pastors change, the emphasis changes, and that can happen every time there is a leadership change. Yet, it should be the structure of the church that remains the same and they hire the next leader to further the emphasis set forth by the structure and beliefs of the organization. Now, I realize if the organization is sick, dying, or depleted of vision, a leader must be able to restore the reason why the organization exists. Many churches are on life support and should just be allowed to die. Just keeping something alive where the people only want to live in the past is sadistic. This is where the structure of the church or ministry needs to come back to the structure of its purpose. If they no longer can perform the purpose for why they exist, then it's time to let go and roll the assets into an organization that is fulfilling their purpose. Most ministries are generational, so at the end of one generation they need to be ready to offload to the next generation and allow the next generation to pick up the mantle of leadership and structure to move forward in fulfilling the purpose of the organization.
So, structure is as important to an organization as the leadership that leads that organization. Remember, structure can be as visionary as any leader, and set forth goals and dreams for the organization as it moves ahead to fulfill the reason it exists. It’s time we pay more attention to the structure of our ministries and organizations, striving always to build solid foundations for which the leaders can feel secure and accountable in deploying their gifts in achieving the purpose set by the organization. Today, it takes strong leaders and strong structures to succeed in fulfilling the vision.
Challenging the Culture with Truth … Larry Kutzler