Leadership Lessons along the journey: Complexity

Complexity:  Complexity arises for leaders because we must deal with competing values, contrasting demands and contradictory perspectives.  This is the second universal leadership challenge mentioned by Allender.  At times, complexity has left me confused and paralyzed.  I have learned three great truths about complexity:

1.  Not all complexity is complex.  It just seems that way in the midst of crisis and other challenges.  As I have had the chance to metabolize some of what seemed complex at the time, I am almost embarrassed to admit that I did not see solutions sooner.

Here are a couple things that seemed complex at the time, but are “no brainers” now:

Do I recruit any person on my team to help because I am so overloaded and the need is great, or wait until I get the right ones?  Told you this was a no brainer.  After the pain of my own bad choices, I have learned it is better to have no one than to have the wrong person.   Not that they are bad people, but they may fit better somewhere else (like launching their own ministry in say, Iceland).  Bill Hybels mentions 4 C’s that have helped me evaluate the people I recruit: Character, Competence, Chemistry and Culture.  Recently, the last two have become more important.  Chemistry: do people pass the parking lot test? (When I arrive at the office, how do I feel when I see their car there?)  Culture: Is there a high degree of value alignment?  Terry, my wife, actually has a better blog on teams, so go read hers at MaturitasCafe and then come back to mine.

 OK, you’re back.  The next complexity that is not so complex…

Do I stop doing developmental activity on the team because of the many crises and overwhelming, competing time demands?  I am afraid I caved to this simple complexity.  At times, I stopped doing development, and people on the team suffered.  Again, MaturitasCafe has some good team development ideas. Don’t neglect developing the people on your team.  People actually need development more when their leadership capacities are being stretched.

2.  Some complexity is complex.  This is due to competing paradigms.  It is impossible to please everyone.  With ambiguity of complex situations, lesser leaders may become rigid and dogmatic, black and white, good and bad; they split and don’t remain very intellectually flexible in order to arrive at more creative solutions.  Complexity that is complex is solved not with “either/or” binary thinking, but by synthesizing options with “both/and” thinking.  Here are some competing paradigms that can be synthesized:

    • Organizational and spiritual
    • Truth and love
    • Policies and people
    • Redemption and competence.  Perhaps this is one of the most painful complexities that those of us in ministry face. We often feel trapped in a situation to keep people in a role that isn’t a good fit for them.  We don’t want to appear like the bad guys, and we want people to like us. We want to “believe the best”-that the person can be “redeemed” with just a few more chances, even though he is not doing well.  In many companies, these same people would be sent packing.  But we allow entropy to set in until the person becomes toxic or they decide to quit.  It took too long for us to synthesize these two paradigms: Redemption can be advanced by helping the person move on.  Firing someone may be the most loving thing to do for that person.

3.  Some complexity is really complex.  I like the illustration of one pastor that Allender talks about in Leading with a Limp: Some days the reality of leadership feels like you’re juggling flaming chain saws!  A few complexities are really complex, and there is no way to avoid getting nicked or burned.  Do we keep quiet about someone who “left” the ministry or let everyone know they stole money, refused to be repentant and were fired?  Do we let others know that a person was toxic, lazy and refused to follow leadership, and after two years of trying to “redeem” them, the only option left was to fire them?

In some situations, I don’t think we fully followed the counsel of Matthew 18.  We went individually to restore the people; then went with others, but stopped there.  Many times we swallowed our pride and kept quiet about why someone left or was fired.  We got “nicked” when we allowed the divisiveness and toxicity to last so long; then got “burned” because we were blamed for letting “good” people leave the organization.

What would you do in this situation?  How have you learned to handle complexity?


About Steve Morgan

I work in Global Leadership Development with Cru with my wife, Terry. We have been married 30 years and have 4 grown children. We have a Masters in Global Leadership together through Azusa Pacific University. I generally write about 5 “L’s: Living Well, Loving Deeply, Learning Continuously, Leading Courageously and Leaving a Legacy. I occasionally write about Laughing Loudly. Subscribe on the right side to receive an email whenever there is a new post. I invite you to leave your comments so we can dialogue on the various topics and learn from each other. If you are new to the site, you might start with looking at some of the top posts or doing a search on the right side bar for one of the 5 “L’s” that interest you. Or you can view the blog archives for topics. Photo Credit: sarahjoellephotography.com
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