I’ve done it and it’s been done to me. Likely, you’ve done it and you’ve been on the receiving end.
Swooping Leadership: With little background, context, or subject matter expertise, swooping in from a higher level leadership position to someone else’s work or “weeds,” and even while uninformed, directing work and making decisions.
Now, I thought I had coined a phrase and definition, but after writing my first draft, I Googled “my phrase” and discovered I’m late to the party. But at least I’m bested by a superior leader and writer, Ken Blanchard. That said, he uses a different and likely better phrase, “Seagull Manager” to describe a similar concept. You can order the book The One Minute Manager and read his chapter and more about his concept in a website post from Modern Servant Leader. That post describes Blanchard’s Seagull Manager term as, “Individuals who manage by raising alarms based on little knowledge, provide negative feedback, then leave others to clean up the mess.”
Reading the book and article would be worthy of your time, but since I’m handling the content with a less negative meaning and context, I’ll go ahead and use my inferior phrase, swooping leadership.
Swooping leadership can happen:
- When a leader has delegated work but then has second thoughts and just can’t let it go
- When a leader is bored
- When a leader can’t seem to affect change in their own assigned work
- When a leader feels a little bit of their leadership influence can serve someone a project
- When the nature of their leadership position may require it (such as, board members)
Reminders if you’re going to swoop
- Ask questions before you direct. Look, I’m sure you’re a good leader, but if you choose to swoop in, spend some time in discovery before you begin directing. If you spend four minutes in discovery on a project they’ve worked four hours, or forty hours, you’re likely going to misdirect them.
- Guide, don’t push. Your title may give you the freedom to push, but that doesn’t mean you should use it. If your leadership advice is solid, they’ll see you as an asset. And your advice and guidance will be well received and even desired. You have to show them you can provide a better way.
- Suggest from your experience, don’t demand from how you’d handle hypothetically. Your experiences can be valuable. But your experiences are likely not the exact same thing they’re dealing with. So don’t draw parallels from your history to their work when it’s not there. Don’t transpose your leadership wiring and abilities on them—they’re not you. Suggest ideas when it can serve them, but know when “your way” is really just hypothetical.
Reminders for receiving the swooping leader
- Respect the positional authority they have. While I hope they are also good leaders, either way, you need to respect the positional authority they’ve been given and act accordingly. And in the case of decision making boards and elders, know they’re fulfilling their responsibility. They likely have their own job, but someone has asked them to provide oversight and advice. So be accepting of their role in your work.
- Get clarity on your authority and boundaries. Albeit not passively aggressively, understand what authority you’ve been given to do the work (I’ve blogged on delegation phrases and pathways previously). And if the authority previously given is now being challenged by their swooping, get clarity. You could say something like, “Previously you had given me a clear pathway to research this, think through it, and make the decision I feel is best. Am I still free to do that or would you prefer I do this the way you just explained?” This makes the swooper make the choice on boundaries and authority and they’ll have to own their swooping.
- Be openhanded to their input. Their swooping leadership could make your work better. What if utilizing one of their suggestions would make the work for your church even 2-3% better? Wouldn’t that be worth it? Constant swooping leadership can be infuriating, but don’t miss good input because you’re annoyed.
As both a swooper and a “I got swooped,” know the difference between swooping leadership that gives credible input and swooping leadership that makes swooping changes (see what I did there?).
It’s been 28 weeks since I’ve published a blog. Am I a slacker? Just busy? Am I working in the tyranny of the urgent? Allowing others to transpose their priorities on me? Or is this where my prioritization process lead me?
What project have you deprioritized lately? And for what reason?
What’s the “unfinished blog” on the corner of your desk? What’s the email lurking at the bottom of your inbox that requires some attention?
Daily if not hourly we’re intentionally and sometimes unintentionally making priority decisions related to work projects. So, in an effort to provide “practical takeaways for everyday church leadership” I thought I’d provide some of the filters I (try to) use. Look, things will get set aside. Their prioritization will decrease, but it’s important that there’s some intentionality to this.
4 Priority Filter Questions
- Related to my work, is this a must do? Litmus test: I don’t do this work, I lose my job. Or things break. Or at a minimum I keep people from doing their jobs. If these could be true, the work is a “must do” and should remain a high priority.
- Am I called or convicted by God to do this? You could respond “no” to question one, and yet “yes” to question two which makes it a must do. For those who follow Jesus, and for those whose work involves church leadership, your priorities may not make sense outside of a spiritual realm, yet, if we’re called to do something or convicted, then it should be our highest priority.
- What’s the collateral damage if this is delayed? You may determine from question one it’s not a “must do,” that things aren’t going to break because it’s not done. Yet, a thoughtful effort of considering what will happen if it’s delayed. There’s likely some consequence, but how big is what takes measuring. As a leader one of our jobs is to make value judgments. In leadership, your priorities create or bog down others priorities pathways. Probably once a week I will ask someone I work with, “if X doesn’t happen, what’s the collateral damage to you or your team?”
- Is this really still important to me? My wiring is such that I like to finish things. If I set a goal, I really want to complete it. Yet things change. And what was important to me six months ago when I was planning my work goals may no longer be important (to me or my church). You’ve got to give yourself freedom to abandon goals when in light of current circumstances they no longer merit your highest attention. What’s one thing you’re plodding away on that really made sense even two months ago, but now you should really just “cut bait” and move to the next priority?
Consequences of Unintentional Prioritization
- You’ll work really hard, but not move the needle – you’ll fill up your work with non-strategic work.
- You’ll be the poster child for being the “tyranny of the urgent guy/gal.” You’ll move from project to project and only do what you “feel” up to (or even worse, what someone else feels for you).
- You’ll do others’ bidding but not what you’re uniquely equipped to do (or even compensated to do).
Whether you wrestle down your projects, let them slide, and jettison them, be thoughtful about how you make those decisions
p.s. for those who care…Regarding my blogging and its prioritization…weekly blogging didn’t remain a priority when I reviewed questions 1-3 above. I knew ministry work at Brentwood Baptist was not going to be halted because I stopped writing. I didn’t feel like I was ignoring a calling or conviction from God. And no one’s work lives were messed up because they don’t get a weekly Dodridge download. But question four, yes, it was important to me. It just wasn’t as important as other things at the time. But now, I’m raising its priority again, and I hope from time to time, reading the blog lands somewhere on your weekly priority list.
We’ve hired nine ministers this year for our church – which means we’ve probably gone through our selection process thirty times. So when I write about the need for insightful interview questions, it comes from a place of need for me (and my church). There are many factors for discerning someone’s spiritual maturity, and that assessment can’t be determined solely by interview questions. However, I’ve listed ten questions I use regularly that help me get a snapshot of a candidate’s spiritual status and trajectory. (If you’re interested, our church’s full section process is available for a nominal cost at equippedchurch.es).
In recent previous posts, I’ve listed both my favorite initial interview questions for a church staff member and also my go-to questions when I’m moving from the discovery phase to the drill down phase of interviewing.
While those sets of questions are important, questions specifically related to their spiritual development is key in our process for our “minister” positions. Below are ten questions that have prompted the most telling responses from candidates. In some cases we have them answer in writing so they have time for an in-depth response – whereas other times, I prefer to have them answer in person (I’ve noted my preference of written or in person after each questions below).
Since I want to understand the person’s spiritual reality and not their preferred or aspirational spiritual life, I try to ask questions just a little bit differently so they’re unlikely to reply with their stock “Sunday School” answer.
- Describe for us your ministry path and the spiritual markers along the way. (Written)
- In your spiritual walk, how has God used adversity to mature you? (Written)
- Share how you have discipled people over the last five years. (In person)
- Please share your spiritual disciplines and practices. (In person)
- What evidence is there in your life and ministry that you are leading in the power of the Spirit, and not out of your own abilities and strengths? (Written or in person)
- What steps do you take to guard and cultivate your integrity? (In person)
- Are there any areas in your life that could be considered by Biblical standards to be out of balance or in excess? (Written or in person)
- What steps do you follow when you sense disagreement or conflict with someone in your church? Give us an example where you used the steps. (Written)
- In what areas of your life is it easiest to demonstrate self-control? In what areas is it most difficult? (In person)
- What are you reading in Scripture currently? What are you learning? (In person)
Just as a practical takeaway, make sure you’re prayed up before you host these interviews. Further, I’ve found it helpful to pray underneath my breath multiple times during an in-person interview, “Let me listen the way You’d listen, and not listen out of human-ness.”
Interview and hire well — it matters to our churches.