When A Leader Should Confront

Business dispute

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto®

One of the most important decisions a leader makes is when to confront someone they lead.

Confrontation is not a bad word. From its Latin origin, it means to turn your face towards. (What is bad is to say confrontational things, in the form of an email or to a third person when you’re not “facing them.) Confronting is an inevitable part of leadership. It’s part of keeping your church on mission. It’s part of developing others.

I’ve written previously on “saying the last 2%” once you’re in a confrontational or developmental conversation. But regardless of whether you’re saying 98% or the last 2%, you first need to determine if you should say anything at all. In other words, is the issue even confront-worthy?

So before you send that email to schedule a meeting, or catch someone in the hallway and ask them to step in your office…

Count the Cost

Ken Sande, author of The Peace Maker reminds us…

“We need to make a conscious effort to count the costs of a conflict at the outset of a dispute and compare them to the benefits of quickly settling the matter (via over-looking).”

Proverbs 19:11 tells us that “it’s to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

You need to perform a cost/benefit analysis. Here are some questions you can ask yourself, to determine if an issue is worth confronting:

  • Does this issue, unchecked, have the ability to cause harm to others or the church?
  • Will this issue get really annoying to you or others if repeated or perpetuated?
  • Is it sinful or anti-staff values?
  • Do you have a specific issue to address, or do you have a general dislike of this person or their attitude?
  • Was this a one-time offense, or is it likely to happen again?

These questions will help uncover your motives and ensure that your issue is in fact, an issue, and not simply a temporary annoyance.

Another way to ensure better confrontation is to think gray. That is, give the issue some space before setting up the confrontation. While I loathe the leadership methodology that waits for the annual review to unload all of someone’s short comings, waiting one to three days will help focus the confrontation.

One other thing that Ken Sande suggests:

“Ask the humanizing question. The humanizing question looks at an infraction and uses not only a situational view of the person who committed infraction, but also a dispositional view. When we feel we are wronged, we often ask, ‘What’s the matter with that person?’ instead of, ‘Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do that?’

Practical takeaways for everyday church leadership:

  • Before rushing to confront, count the cost
  • Perform a cost/benefit analysis
  • Pray for wisdom
  • Ask the humanizing question



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