Getting this one right (or wrong) makes all the difference in the world! It can make (or break) a leadership team’s effectiveness and have negative consequences for the entire church or organization. 

Two of the early questions I ask a new client as we begin is: “How are decisions made in your church or organization and who has the ultimate decision-making authority? With some it is very clear and in writing (the church by-laws and constitution.) With others it is very ambiguous, fuzzy and open to numerous interpretations.

Some churches have staff teams, elder boards, deacon boards, advisory boards and various committees and the lines of authority are dangerously unclear.

If it’s not clear, persons with strong personalities and opinions will step into the perceived vacuum and attempt to make decisions on behalf of others thereby setting up a power struggle which, in some churches, goes on for years and which can result in good staff and pastors leaving to look for jobs elsewhere. I have personally seen this happen on more than one occasion.

If the authority to make almost all decisions rests with a single individual, you have a dysfunctional situation that will, over time, drive out creative, innovative types who feel there is no permission to dream and implement without having to jump through endless bureaucratic hoops and fight through red tape to, in many cases, then be blocked by the one decision-maker.

Is it clear as to who has the authority to make what kinds of decisions? Is it clear what authority each leader has in making (or not making) certain decisions? Getting this right will make all the difference in the world.

I worked with one church where the elder-board felt it needed to sign off on everything, which robbed the team leads of the ability to make certain decisions that pertain to their ministry area. These team leads (staff and other elders) have job descriptions and clear goals, but the elder-board wants to make the final decision to “Protect the church from some of its leaders,” which clips the wings of these team leads and deprives them of the ability to make timely decisions on things (it needs to wait to the next elder board meeting.)

Other churches I have worked with have fallen into the trap of having the lead pastor make all the decisions for everybody, which causes demotivation on a massive scale, creates a needless bottleneck and shuts down innovation and creativity.  It simply reeks of a lack of trust. In many cases it simply boils down to giving responsibility to people you trust to do what you’ve asked them to do.

If you have to control or micromanage a person and don’t honestly trust them to do their job, then you’ve probably made a bad hire (paid or volunteer).

If you trust them, then let them make the decisions pertinent to the area for which they are responsible.

Creating a climate which gives people appropriate independence in decision-making, without giving up appropriate accountability, takes a lot of leadership skill.

If a team lead is capable of making certain decisions intelligently, why have it referred to a supervisor?  If a supervisor is capable, why refer to someone above? Eliminate needless rules and allow people as much freedom as possible in making decisions and leading in their area as long as they stay within the parameters of the purpose, values and vision of the organization and are achieving what’s in their job description, meeting given expectations, and reaching agreed-upon goals which have been established.

I believe wise leaders will communicate and collaborate on ideas they develop to improve the decision-making process and keep others up the chain of command informed. At the same time they should be freed from having to ask permission for those decisions (except on rare occasions where a decision has broad and major impact on other areas of the organization) and be able decide with their teams. Admittedly, I am not a big fan of “Command and Control, top-down leadership,” but more bottom-up leadership.

Although this is written with churches in mind (the world I live and work in) the ideas would apply to any group, company or organization, and coincides with everything I have ever read on leadership

Michael Hyatt’s “Levels of Authority” which you can find under the “Articles Tab” on this blog site has been very helpful to me and I have shared it with 100’s of leaders. Please check it out!