Leadership maturity has many measures. One is the ability to confront people healthily. No avoidance or white lies, but confident and intentional calmness. However, the ability to address issues well is an art more than it is a science, requiring intuition and relational intelligence. However easy this may seem in friendships and in professional settings, it is altogether more difficult when working in volunteer environments. The “I shouldn’t have to put up with this” mindset can hit leaders selflessly sacrificing time and energy so that they will easily throw away the rich growth and humility that comes from perseverance in healthy confrontation necessary for leadership growth. Here’s a few tips to maximise that confrontational ‘opportunity’.
1. If it’s right to do, then it is worth doing. Some people will virtually lie about the status of a relationship rather than face confrontation, whereas others will minimise important discussions and end up skirting around real issues. It is helpful to remember, though, that valuing people makes our relationship with them and not their approach to us, the main priority. Issues under consideration are sometimes secondary, too, and will be much easier to sort when trust is present, anyway. Leaders sometimes avoid confronting concerns, but it is ‘care-fronting’ a relationship breakdown that is the priority, whether tension is with the leader or with someone else. Questions such as, “Can you help me to understand why…?” allow follow-up and accountability that is direct without being aggressive. Issues are naturally important, but people need to feel affirmed, especially by leaders, and sometimes more than we might think. This is even more important after a confrontation that has been difficult for them. Discretion and privacy needs may sometimes restrict what can be said in some situations, but honesty and transparency are foundational to relationships that work. Avoidance of significant issues and tensions may feel like an act of love, but often motivated by self-preservation that does not “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
2. If it is worth doing, then it is worth doing well. Electronic communication seems like an efficient means of handling matters, but needs far more often to be replaced by face-to-face catch-ups or phone calls. Such time is not wasted, but invested, whereas emails and texts should usually be restricted to procedural matters. Leaders cannot underestimate the value of each pastoral opportunity to connect with the people they love and care for, taking the time to add value, even if needing to wait until people are ready. Conversations sometimes need to be respectfully brief, too, such as when people are emotional or just busy. In-person contact is best for its relational engagement, but phone calls offer a next-best substitute, in preference to written communication (2 John 12, 3 John 14). The hearing of the heart is important, as is the ability to push back or clarify when needed. So, too, is the secondary relationship-building communication of banter, care, encouragement or the general processing of life that a text or email cannot typically provide with the same effect.
3. If it is worth doing well, then it is worth the emotional investment. Emotional maturity means being in control of our own emotions when people are being emotional with us. Hearing a kernel of truth in a difficult conversation can be helpful for us, but what is helpful for the other person is for them to be able to vent with a safe person, even if they are ungracious, or to make a mistake from which they can come back without needing to be chopped at the knees. There is, of course, a time for rebuttal or rebuke, but active listening, compassion and processing learning experiences are very hard to do well if a leader is defensive, dismissive, reactionary or aloof. Emotional investments build the trust and security which can be banked for future benefit. Reducing negative emotion is a key to harnessing the value of positive emotion.
Emotional maturity is at the heart of confronting healthily. The Christian leader’s emotional maturity stems from a relationship with God that is centred on enjoying and responding to Him, not on finding identity in our serving, in leading or in achieving our own desires.
Loving people well certainly reflects our love of God and our assurance of His unconditional love for us. Others may not always feel the love and may not always be capable of responding well to our own emotional maturity. However, servant leaders play their part in optimising the kind of confrontation that cares enough to bring out the best in people and in their key relationships and this takes time, maturity and a willingness to stay the course given that situations often fail to play out as expected.