Require and Relate: The paradox of good leadership

A ministry leader told me that he bases his leadership style on R&R. No, he’s not taking it easy all the time. I’m sure he gets an appropriate amount of rest and relaxation, but he defines R&R as “Require and Relate.” Requiring happens when a leader sets out performance standards and evaluates to see if the standards are being met. Relating happens when a leader connects with staff members in a caring, supportive way.

When a leader requires without relating, the leader is seen as autocratic, demanding, hard-nosed and a bunch of other not-so-nice attributes. When a leader relates without requiring, not much happens, but everyone has a really good time as the ship goes down.

I suspect that some leaders feel the tension between requiring and relating and struggle with doing both. Some leaders may have difficulty with the relating part, believing that if things get mushy and touchy-feely the organization will fall to pieces. And other leaders may not have the intestinal fortitude and confidence to insist on performance, so they avoid confronting poor performance in a misguided attempt to be nice.

Two tips

This leader made two points about R&R that should help you lead with both strategies.

  1. Don’t settle for an either/or approach to the two Rs. The concept of requiring and relating, of demanding performance while at the same time showing care and compassion, is thoroughly biblical. John 1:14 says that Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” Randy Alcorn, in The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding with Christlike Balance, shows how Jesus demonstrated grace towards other people while at the same time not compromising the truth at all. He welcomed the woman caught in adultery, but also said, “Go and sin no more.” Grace is like relating, and truth is like requiring. Jesus showed how grace and truth work together seamlessly to produce his desired result: they drive people to a decision point – will they, or will they not, live for God? Requiring and relating can likewise co-exist in your leadership style to produce your desired results – accomplishment of your ministry’s mission. So don’t be squeamish about insisting on performance, and don’t be shy about building strong relationships with your staff.
  2. Requiring performance by clearly setting out the expected activities and results is simply good stewardship. I thought this was a brilliant insight, connecting performance with stewardship. After all, if you had a program that did not perform well, you’d either cancel it or redesign it to perform better. You wouldn’t knowingly continue a program that was inefficient or ineffective, would you? Of course not. So why would you knowingly put up with inefficient or ineffective performance? Both programs and salaries are funded by donors who expect you to make good use of their hard-earned donations. And as a leader in ministry, you are accountable to God for good stewardship of everything entrusted to you.

Employee responsibility

But employees are accountable for good stewardship too. Any paid worker in Christian ministry has two kinds of stewardship to think about with respect to their incomes:

  • First, in their personal capacities, they are to be good stewards of the cash they receive. That is the normal way to think about stewardship.
  • But second, in their work capacities, they are to be good stewards of the time they traded for their income. I don’t often hear people talk about stewardship of their work time. Most often when stewardship of time is discussed, it is in the context of volunteer service. But every person should think about how they are using their work time and ask the question, “Am I right now being a good steward of the time I have sold to my employer?”

And if leadership needs to help some people become better stewards of their work time, then that too is good stewardship on the leader’s part. If we don’t address performance issues in order to be nice, well, just hear what Randy Alcorn has to say about that! According to him, we’ve redefined Christlike to mean “nice” and with that definition, Jesus himself wasn’t always Christlike, because he confronted people with their sin. Requiring that work standards be met may not always be seen as nice, but done well it is good stewardship.

A helpful biblical model

In Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions And Leadership In The Bible, Tim Laniak discusses the protection, provision and guidance that the Lord gave to Israel while he led them through the wilderness. These three words are a pretty good description of leadership responsibilities, but it is the word guidance that I think is most closely related to the R&R style of leadership. There are three Hebrew verbs used in the Bible that are translated ‘to guide.” The three nuances Tim gives these words are:

  1. gentle leading (which is shown in several verses as the Lord carrying Israel in his arms, or leading the nursing ewes of his flock);
  2. leading, even against the will of those being led; and
  3. capable, visionary leadership guiding a group toward its destiny.

Perhaps the best way to encapsulate what is meant by Require and Relate is that leaders should provide gentle leadership guiding people towards their common destiny, even when some prodding is required.

By the way, on a completely different topic, Alcorn’s book has a statement that just leapt off the page at me. As a bonus thought, here it is:

“Most sinners loved being around Jesus.  They enjoyed His company, sought Him out, invited Him to their homes and parties.  Today most sinners don’t want to be around Christians.  Unbelievers tore off the roof to get to Jesus.  Sometimes they crawl out the windows to get away from us!  Why is that?”

Alcorn asks a great question that we all should carefully consider.

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