Lessons from Chernobyl and sick pigs
Over the last few days two different stories have gotten me thinking about the teams we lead and the importance of an environment that encourages people to be honest about what they are seeing:
- The HBO mini-series, Chernobyl, was a horrifying telling of the story of the catastrophic meltdown of a nuclear power plant. Throughout the entire story, while problems were mounting, there was a steady stream of people who refused to speak candidly about the scope of the problem and the reasons behind it. Rather than admitting that magnitude of the problem, officials had been conditioned to downplay the situation and refuse to admit that there were systemic issues that could affect other power plants.
- A recent Economist story discussing the rise of swine flu in China suggested that we will not know the true numbers of pigs that are being culled because local leaders do not want the national government to identify their regions as being problematic. It is easier for them to ignore the issue in the short-term, than to work on a solution. This keeps the local leaders safe in the near-term, but it sets the world up for a bacon shortage in the long-term.
I am becoming more and more convinced that one of the marks of a great leader is their willingness to hear bad news without shooting the messenger.
Unfortunately, many of our teams are terrified of admitting that all is not well, identifying failures, or discussing the elephant in the room. This may make us more comfortable in the short-run, but it dooms our ministry in the long-run.
At the end of the Chernobyl mini-series, it was suggested that Mikhail Gorbachev pointed to the incident as the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. The fear of telling inconvenient truths was the cancer that brought down an empire.
How many of our teammates are afraid to tell an inconvenient truth?
There is a popular meme floating around social media these days, a quote from Andy Stanley:
Leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing significant to say.
This is a case of a pithy, shareable quote carrying a significant amount of leadership wisdom. If you are a senior leader, especially in a church, ask yourself these three questions:
- When was the last time someone on my team shared bad news with me about our church? What was my reaction?
- Who on my team has permission to pull me aside and tell me that I am about to make a mistake? When was the last time they did that?
- When was the last time I willingly changed my mind due to my team's feedback?
Developing a healthy team that values honesty, vulnerability, and feedback begins with our ability to model this same behavior. The myth of the infallible leader who knows all the answers is just that: a myth. Leading in this manner leads to unhealth, dysfunction, and a dying church.