By Joel Rainey
Leadership is, by default, a “team sport.” If you have no one to lead, how can you be a leader?
But having a group to lead doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lead them well, nor does it mean they’ll necessarily be a “great team.”
Over the years, I’ve often bragged publicly about the folks who’ve worked with me and for me, and I’ve been truly blessed through most of my ministry to have some great team members.
But I’ve also had some bad experiences in this department, and these contrasting experiences have revealed a few characteristics that make someone a truly great team member.
So if you have leadership responsibilities over a group of people–be they paid subordinates or volunteers, how can you tell if someone will make a “great team member”?
I’ve found the following five questions helpful.
1. Do they want you to personally succeed?
“Pastor, you shouldn’t have said that!” This statement came from a church leader, and at first, it was offensive to hear! But in a later conversation, this man made his case to me.
When you said it like that, there are a lot of people who don’t know you like I do, and what you’re saying isn’t what they’ll hear. And I’m concerned that if you keep addressing the situation like this, it’s going to hurt you.
It was my good, as well as the good of the church that this man cared deeply about.
Great team members aren’t just after their own success. They want the entire team to succeed, and they have a clear understanding that if the pastor fails, such failure will also reflect on them and affect the whole church.
This means they’ll sometimes challenge the leader for what they perceive is the leader’s own good. It doesn’t mean they’ll always get it right, but if their motivation is to see you as their leader succeed, they’re someone you want to keep.
2. Do they care about your well-being?
Great team members aren’t all about the work, exclusively. They understand that anything affecting one’s personal life in a negative way will eventually spill over into the professional arena.
Great team members are personally concerned for your family, your health, and your mental well-being.
3. Are they loyal without being blind?
One doesn’t need to be a “lap dog” to be loyal. In fact, “blind loyalty” is disloyalty, because it ignores things that can bring a leader down.
If I’m about to do something incredibly stupid (it happened once or twice!), I want people on my team who’ll tell me.
As a leader, I’ve always had a policy with those who work for me that’s expressed in this way: “My door is open to you, so long as you close it before you criticize me.”
Part of “managing up” is striking the careful balance between respect for authority in public and appropriately challenging that authority in private.
4. When they offer criticism, does it contribute to solutions?
Anybody can criticize. Anybody can find something wrong with the plan. And anybody can tear down people they work for.
We’re all imperfect, and finding those imperfections merely to point them out is the work of kindergarten students.
Great team members can offer appropriate criticism, at the right time, aimed at the right place, to point toward the right solution.
5. Do they love the mission?
I have a friend who says Marines don’t need to sit around for hours discussing their mission. They simply dig a foxhole and fight together.
Too often in the church, we think that if we can just, somehow, “create” community, we’ll have a mission. But it’s the opposite. Community doesn’t create mission; mission creates community.
In the end, how educated or skilled the individual members of your team are matters far less than their passion for the mission.
If you aren’t clear on the mission and engaged in it together, your team will always be dysfunctional.
This means you have to ask of each team member: “Do they understand the overall mission is more important than any ‘part’ of the mission? Are they committed to that mission with us?”
You can’t be a loner and be in ministry–at least not for long! And you can never do it effectively by yourself. Be sure you have good people on your team, and ask these questions before you put them there.
JOEL RAINEY (@joelrainey) is Lead Pastor of Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He’s husband to Amy, father of three, serves on the adjunct faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the author of four books, and blogs at Themelios.