Leadership is a conversation


My good friend and colleague, Dean Phelan, retired recently as CEO of Churches of Christ in Queensland.  His premature retirement came after he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in February this year and stepped down for the good of the organisation. He continues to inspire us with his positivity in adversity and is now well on the road to recovery. Reflecting on his leadership serves to inspire the very best in us.

One way of thinking about the leadership he provided is as a series of conversations.

When he took over a little over seven years ago he discovered a siloed organisation. The traditional Church side of the organisation was dwindling like most churches around the globe. A separate and growing community services arm was providing important services to the aged, homeless, youth and foster care sectors.  The prevailing narrative about the organisation that appeared in annual reports, public statements and internal staff communication was that they were an organisation comprised of seventy churches with an ancillary community support services role.

Dean could see that the story they told needed to be reinvented.  

He started a series of conversations about the predictable future for the organisation if nothing altered.  Church attendance numbers were declining with an ageing population and were not being replaced by young people for whom attending church on Sundays was not relevant. It was likely the community services arm would further separate, with some sections being sold off. Clearly a single strategy aimed at growing more churches was not viable.  If the prevailing story continued then their decline was inevitable.  

Dean conducted a further series of conversations with his leadership team and community leaders to create a new future.  They aligned on a new mission for the organisation to ‘bring the light of Christ into communities.’ They reversed the traditional model of individual churches and care businesses separately trying to grow their own numbers and put the local community’s needs as the focus. They brought Christian values of service to the community instead of regarding the church building as their only touch point for people.

In the process, they brought integrated services to impact the darkness afflicting communities by providing affordable housing for the homeless, care for the elderly, care and protection for at-risk children and youth, men’s sheds, counselling support and many more services that provided for the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of individuals and families in each community.  

Game-changing leaders like Dean are adept at creating future based conversations. They paint a picture of a possible future that inspires people to take urgent action.

But to be effective and deliver a game-changing outcome they also need to gain ownership from the team around them. The big new game to create a new model for a church also necessitated Dean’s leadership team expanding their own personal leadership conversations.   They took ownership of the new mission and will continue to carry it forward. Dean will be the first to acknowledge that he could only accomplish such game-changing objectives with the support of his leadership team.

How could you change the conversation and align your team on a bold new future?

Best regards, Brian

PS: Want to align your team on a bold new future? Contact us for a free 30 minute leadership diagnostic.