Several years ago I found myself in a conversation with a political consultant who has run national campaigns for candidates seeking election. We were on a flight, and he asked about my profession. I tried to explain “executive pastor” to him, and after a few more questions he concluded, “Sounds kind of like a chief of staff.”
He shared how in his world “chief of staff,” though not an elected position, is way more influential than most people think. He explained that it is the “chief of staff” who manages what information the senior leader receives and thus naturally informs the view of reality. His point was, “who the leader listens to, what the leader hears, impacts everything.” Think about the weight of that statement. The culture and direction of entire organizations, churches, ministries, and institutions is driven in part by whom the leader listens to. The person a leader listens to impacts much of the leader’s decision-making, direction, and perception of challenges and opportunities.
Leaders must listen to others, but wise leaders ensure they are hearing the right voices. In my experience, the right people to listen to are men and women who consistently display:
It is difficult for a person to give counsel without a view of his/her own personal interests, but humble people are able to do so. They are able to separate their own interests from what’s best for the organization because they don’t receive their worth and identity from the organization. They don’t seek to protect or advocate for themselves with their counsel because they find their security in Christ. In short, they aren’t seeing the world through the lens of “what’s best for me.” Their humility also impacts how they share counsel, “not a bully, but gentle, not quarrelsome,” as they seek to be helpful.
Leaders are unwise to listen to people who have not consistently displayed wisdom in their personal lives, in their own decision-making. If someone has not “manage[d] his own household competently” (1 Tim. 3:5), how can this person speak into a broader realm of responsibility?
There will never be a shortage of people lining up to give leaders advice. There will always be a plethora of people who “arm-chair lead” organizations they are not committed to or even care about. Thus they don’t feel the weight of their counsel. Just because someone is willing to give advice does not mean the person owns the implications. Leaders are wise to listen to people who are burdened for the health and the future of the organization.
Leaders who don’t listen are leaders in title only. But leaders who listen to the wrong people, the wrong voices, lead in directions—often contradictory directions—that are not best for the people they exist to serve.