May 6th, 2014

4 Frustrations of 1st Chair Leadership (Post One)

Chair 150x150I have been in ministry for 30 years, and have spent a good bit of time sitting in both the 1st and 2nd chair of responsibility. Half of this time I have been a leadership consultant to churches, and it has been interesting how many times I have been invited behind closed doors to have a private discussion about 1st chair vs. 2nd chair tension. The conversation is usually not hostile or divisive, but it is frustrated. When I sat in the 2nd chair, the work of the 1st chair seemed so clear to me. Then when I got in the 1st chair, the view changed and I forgot what I used to know.

God wires people certain ways for certain reasons. Every wiring has blind spots. Some of these blind spots can grow to an unhealthy size when mixed with stress, pace, insecurity, inexperience, etc. I want to take some time to rehearse some of my most common conversations about the frustrations between the 1st and 2nd chair. Warning: I am going to be straightforward and direct. I’ve learned 1st chair leaders appreciate this kind of conversation.

If you are a 1st chair leader, one of my clients, and a friend, I promise I did not use you as an inspiration for this piece. However, I did use a friend of yours, so make sure they don’t read it.

Frustration #1: Confusion Created By an Unclear Vision

1st chair leaders are clearly the visionaries of the organization. They typically have carved out more time for prayer, study, reflection, and conversation with key lay leaders. 1st chair leaders drive the direction in terms of budget, ministry priorities staffing, and key meeting agendas. They also have the power of the microphone every weekend. I have learned there are a couple of conversations that 1st chair leaders can be very defensive about – preaching and vision. (FYI, preaching length is a common joke nearly every where I go. I want to talk about preaching on generosity in another blog, so no comments about length here.)

I do want to talk about unclear vision. Most 1st chair leaders believe they have a very clear vision. They believe they talk about it, direct towards it, and communicate it repeatedly. My experience is that most churches have very unclear language about their vision, which creates a muddy situation. I live in Birmingham, AL and we have always had former Alabama and Auburn athletes in our community. They are dads and coaches in our local rec leagues. I typically divide them into two categories. Some dads who were the lesser athletes make the better coaches, while the better athletes make the lesser coaches. One group had to learn it and the others were just born doing it.

My experience is that 1st chair leaders spend so much time living the vision internally that they really struggle in converting it to understandable, strategic, and measurable language that is easily transferable to others. Without the language you do not have the necessary handles and ramps that 2nd chair leaders need to direct implementation. Then, because there is not clearly defined language, the vision language is constantly changing. First chair leaders do not readily see this, but 2nd chair leaders are confused and frustrated.

When I sit in the 1st chair, I have to constantly remind myself to clearly and specifically articulate vision using a consistent language. I think about it so much, I just assume everyone else gets it. But, they don’t because I am not communicating consistently or clearly.

Frustration #2: Noise Resulting in Reactionary Leadership

First chair leaders rarely receive the truth about themselves and their organization. I know that can sound shocking, but play out the scenarios. You continually interact with different types of people. First, there is the lay person that likes to be critical and continually offers their opinion. Second, you have the staff member that is respectful of your authority and doesn’t want to create professional tension. Third, your key leaders know you are busy and dealing with a lot of fires, so they do not want to bring something to your attention. Fourth, your family members have a mixture of personal expectations and hurts. (Maybe another day I will write a blog about how the pastor’s family members influence the church privately more than 1st chair leaders realize.) All four of these relationships are not presenting completely helpful truth.

Now, the second and third group in the scenario above contain very truthful and helpful information. However, it usually never makes it to the pastor in a direct and understandable fashion. Staff members typically dance around it and key leaders never get to the conversation until it is almost too late. Then when you mix in the shepherd nature of the pastor along with some relational insecurities, audiences one and four can become very powerful forces.

When you have an unclear vision that is now mixed with fires cropping up, the nature is to react. One reaction leads to another reaction, which leads to another reaction and before you know it, you may have created five different action plans while trying to solve one problem that simply lacked clarity and truth.

Please visit this link for the last two frustrations:


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