UnderdogI have always been drawn to underdog stories, especially in sports. There’s just something inviting and appealing about stories of teams who have risen from the ashes or who have achieved results that are unexpected or seemingly impossible. I’ve especially appreciated these stories when they’re about teams that I follow or people I know.

At the same time, I’m always reading books, striving to learn and know more every day. Since seminary, I had heard the name Patrick Lencioni over and over again in leadership circles. Having taken a leadership class during my time in seminary, I was drawn to concepts and principles that relate to leadership. Lencioni’s name had quickly risen to the top of my list of authors to read.

I finally cracked open Lencioni’s book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” last weekend. If you aren’t familiar with Patrick Lencioni and his style, he writes what he calls “leadership fables.” He explains and lays out leadership principles and practices through the use of narrative. He tells a fictional story to show how these principles and practices play out in a more realistic scenario rather than simply explaining concepts.

It’s possible when something is hyped as much as Lencioni had been to me that a huge letdown will occur, but that wasn’t the case. I got hooked into the story as he described the dysfunctions of a team, so much so that I stayed up far too late trying to get to the end of the book. I soaked up everything that he had written.

Any of us who have lived and operated in the corporate world for any length of time have surely experienced a team, warts and all. Although the church environment is not corporate, the same principles can easily be seen and apply. Having served in two churches prior to the one in which I currently serve, I’ve been part of teams that showed these dysfunctions of which Lencioni writes.

Lencioni writes that building cohesive teams is not complicated but simple. The hard work is in actually making it happen. There are so many factors that go into building a team and having seen it done poorly in the past, I can appreciate so much of what Lencioni writes.

More than anything else, I realize how crucial a team leader is, whether it’s a coach, manager, captain, or whomever, their attitude can make or break a team. While ego easily plays into success, if there isn’t some amount of humility and transparency, the team will never get off the ground. The best leaders whom I’ve had have shown an equal share of competence and confidence as well as humility. Despite popular belief, those traits can all coexist.

The best teams which I’ve seen and served on are the ones that are made up of individuals who have the greater good in mind as a focus. The team members aren’t about rising up in the ranks so much as they are about seeking the success of the team or organization on which they are serving. They will easily make sacrifices if they know that those sacrifices will pay dividends for the overall team.

One of the dysfunctions that I saw early in ministry was a lack of commitment. It wasn’t that people were not committed to making things happen, it was that there was a hesitancy if not a blatant refusal to be wrong. In wanting to move forward, I saw leaders delay decisions until the planets aligned or all of the pieces fit perfectly into place. Those leaders missed an important lesson, as Lencioni describes it, “…it is better to make a decision boldly and be wrong…..than it is to waffle.”

To be honest, I would point to that lack of commitment as the demise of one specific place where I served. Instead of boldly moving forward embracing a willingness to be wrong, this leader dragged his heels and eventually watched the catastrophic failure of the vision which had been cast and a mass exodus of all who had exerted blood, sweat, and tears to get to that point.

Conversely, I’ve seen what happens when a leader takes a step out and leads with boldness, confidence, and a willingness to be wrong. People are inspired, people follow, people get on board. While there still may be fear and trepidation over the unknowns, there is something to be said about entering into unknown territory as a team rather than feeling as if you’re a lone ranger. When team members feel that they have the support and encouragement of their leader, those who are committed to the greater good will be inspired to do whatever it takes to accomplish it.

I will never forget the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the self-proclaimed “band of idiots.” While there were good players on that team, the sum of the parts was so much greater than each of the individual parts. They accomplished what had never been done in history, coming back from three games behind to beat their rival, the New York Yankees, by winning four consecutive games.

They would never have accomplished that had they all wanted to shine as individuals or had they lost sight of the end goal: to win a world championship. Every game, a different player seemed to rise up to be the hero for the day. They were aligned on their goal.

I’ve been privileged to serve with some great people on great teams. I’ve also learned a tremendous amount from having served leaders who were less than stellar in their approaches. Every experience is one to value for the lessons learned of things to do or things to avoid. I’m grateful for humble leaders, leaders who have seen my own potential and invested in me, and leaders who were always willing to “take one for the team” in order that the greater good could be accomplished.

I’m glad I’ve got more years ahead of me to practice some of the principles and lessons that I’ve learned. I’m not a leadership expert, but experts are overrated. Sharing what we learn regardless of where we reside on the ladder of leadership is a crucial part of our own growth as well as the growth of those around us. I probably overshare and tell too much of what I’ve experienced, but if it helps the people with whom I serve, than I’ve done what I’ve set out to do.

I’ve still got at least one more Lencioni book on my pile of books to read, in the meantime, I’m going to see what I can do to practice the simple principles. They’re easy to understand but they’re hard to implement and live out. Here’s to living as leaders!


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