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Core Leadership Competencies: The Art of Wise Pruning.

Posted: June 20, 2013 by Rob Voyle

I grew up on a dairy farm in New Zealand, where we also had a large orchard. I love fresh fruit and one of my favorite pastimes as a child was to climb into whatever tree was bearing fruit and have more than my full of fresh fruit.

It was during those times that I learned the lesson of pruning. My father would often take to the trees in ways that would make me despair of every having another fresh peach or apple, yet come the next year I would once again have the joy of eating luscious juicy fruit.

While I have learned how to prune my fruit trees, I was hopeless at pruning ministries when I was in parish ministry. Too often I allowed tired, worn out ministries that bore little fruit to take life from the entire system. Three reasons predominated my failure to prune:

1. Stopping a ministry was seen as failure and therefore led to feelings of guilt. 2. I was afraid of the backlash from the stakeholders who were invested in the program. 3. I didn't know how to prune without eliciting guilt or fear.

Learning how to prune or stop a ministry is a core competency of leadership and is essential if we ask the great question: "Why are we doing this?" and we get no sensible answer that relates to the core purpose and values of the organization.

Here are some indications that you may need to prune a ministry:

1. The outcome is not worth the resources required to achieve it. When branches take more energy from a system than the fruit they provide it is time for them to go.

2. The ministry no longer supports the core values and purpose of the organization. Keeping a clear focus on the core values and purpose is at the heart of great leadership. When the fruit no longer relate to the core values and purpose they are a passing fancy. They may flourish like rank growth in a tree but they are an illusion as they don't contribute worthwhile fruit.

These two indicators are often at the heart of two more readily apparent indicators. 3. The ministry is a constant source of conflict and strife in the congregation. This conflict is a sure sign that at a deeper level there is no consensus on the core purpose of the organizations values and purpose.

4. No one is interested in being part of the ministry or doing the work. Peoples' tastes change. Sometimes a new generation isn't attracted to old varieties. Wise farmers grow fruit people want to eat and not persist in growing what they used to like and buy. Eventually entire orchards need to be replanted.

How to Prune a Ministry.

1. Get very clear about your core purpose and values and make sure the congregation knows them. When people know the core values and purpose they are more readily able to let go of those programs that no longer energize the purpose.

2. Gather all the stakeholders of the ministry and conduct an appreciative inquiry into their best experience of the ministry: "Tell me a story about your best experience of the ministry?" "What do you value about the ministry?"

3. Explore the timeless qualities of the ministry as expressed in their best experiences and what they value about the ministry. For example, people's best experience of an outreach ministry may actually have been fellowship and intimacy between the members as they engaged in the ministry.

4. Explore and creatively imagine new ways of engaging the timeless value of the ministry beyond the current way it is being manifested. Discern the movement of the Spirit as people imagine new possibilities.

For example, imagine a group of women who gathered over the years to do needlepoint as part of an annual church fair. They have aged, failing eyesight and arthritis have diminished their interest or ability to engage in needlepoint. The younger generation have neither the time or the interest to engage in the activity and so membership in the group is declining. The needlepoint members feel discouraged and frustrated that no one will engage in the work. In gathering with the women it is clear that what they really valued was not the needlepoint or the fair but the regular fellowship and being in relationship with others. Creating a regular coffee group or some other simple shared activity will enable the women to continue to access the value of fellowship when the needlepoint group, or the fair for that matter, is discontinued.

5. Ask the stakeholders what their objections to ending the ministry are and what would satisfy those objections. We don't want to overcome the objections we want to satisfy the objections. Overcoming someone's objection will be perceived as an act of violence and will invoke acts of violence from those who feel violated. Satisfying objections rather than overcoming objections is at the heart of the Quaker consensus model when they ask: "Are all hearts clear?" Creating the coffee group in the previous needlepoint example is a way of satisfying the objection of losing the timeless value of fellowship.

6. Publicly announce the plan by enfolding the plan in an awareness of the core values and purpose of the organization.

7. If resistance occurs return to steps 2-5 with the individuals who are resisting. If the resistance continues despite your best efforts to satisfy the objections be prepared to stay the course, by keeping your focus on the core values and purpose of the organization. This is not a time to be here for yourself, or for others but for God.

Leadership Training Programs. If you want to grow your core leadership skills then I invite you to participate in one of our Appreciative Leadership for Transformation programs.

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About the Author

Rob Voyle

Rob Voyle

The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings.

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