Do you have a negative leader in your youth ministry team? Someone who’s always complaining, often against whatever you’re saying or proposing, taking others down with him or her?
Having a negative leader in your youth ministry team can be a problem, both for you personally but also for the team. If this negativity lasts for more than say a few weeks (hey, we all have bad days and even weeks), you’ll need to act. Here’s what I would advice you to do (I’ll be using the male form for the negative leader but naturally it could just as well be a woman!).
Before you do anything, you need to pray. Make sure your heart is filled with love and compassion, not anger and frustration before you do anything else. Ask God to give you wisdom and insight, to help you find the right way, the right words and the right tone to approach the negative leader.
Have you considered the possibility that the leader is less negative than you perceive him to be? Maybe he just rubs you the wrong way, maybe he’s so different than you that you find it hard top understand where he’s coming from or maybe you’re just plain allergic to him and see everything he does in a certain light.
I strongly advice you to gather facts. Write down remarks the leader makes that you feel are negative, record incidents or examples. Now show these to someone else who doesn’t know this leader and ask if they’re indeed negative. Just get a fresh perspective from someone else. And if they agree with you, you now have some specific things you can discuss.
Obviously, you’ll need to have a talk with this negative leader. Let compassion be your starting point, rather than frustration or irritation. If someone is this negative, there’s a reason. Chances are, this leader knows he’s being a pain, but for some reason is unable to get out of his funk. Your motivation has to be that you want to help this leader, that you want to see him get out of his negativity and serve with joy again. Sure, getting rid of a negative leader may be the quickest solution, but that’s not how we do things in God’s Kingdom. So pray and search your heart, ask God to fill you with compassion and when you know that you can act out of love, have a talk with your negative leader.
Have a talk
Try to make the talk as non threatening as possible. Sit next to your negative leader, not across from him. Have a cup of coffee or tea. Pick a good room to talk in, preferably a living room or another ‘cozy’ room. Your negative leader has to feel like you’re equal to him, that you’re beside him offering help, not above him offering criticism. And then start from compassion: “Listen John, I’m worried about you…you haven’t been yourself lately.”
I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll be able to break though this leader’s hostility, because most will respond with a defense mechanism at first. But if you stay warm, compassionate and kind, you’ll have the best shot at getting to the heart of the problem. Maybe his marriage is falling apart. Maybe his daughter just announced she’s an atheist. Maybe he lost his job. And maybe he just doesn’t like you.
When your negative leader starts talking, take the time to listen. Listen well for any hidden messages or hints about what’s really going on. Force yourself to not go into problem-solving-mode. You need to listen first. Keep mirroring what you hear to make sure you’ve understood it correctly: “So what I hear you saying is that your problems at work just drain all the energy right out of you”. Seek to first understand, not to be understood as Stephen Covey so accurately phrased it.
It’s good to realize up front that you may get a load of criticism about your leadership, your ideas, vision or even about you as a person. Trust me, I have been there. And I know it can be infuriating to have to listen to this, especially when half of it isn’t true. But here comes the hard part: you’re the leader, act like it. While you certainly don’t have to accept everything that’s thrown at you, you may need to swallow some stuff. Keep the bigger goal in mind: to help this person.
Their method may be completely wrong, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be right. Maybe something in your leadership style or methods frustrates them to no end and they have no healthy way of communicating this, thus acting out in a negative way. Try to separate the method from the message and see if you can find what they’re actually saying.
When you’re sure you’ve gotten to the bottom (and that may even take more than one conversation), see if you can find solutions together:
- Refer to a pastoral counselor or even professional help
- Have them temporarily lay down tasks in youth ministry
- Make changes in your youth ministry or your leadership style when appropriate
- Agree on follow up talks, coaching or accountability
- Seek help together for any practical issue they may be facing
But what if they won’t open up, or what if they’re not open to having a talk? Follow the Biblical road as explained in Matthew 18:15-18. Ask for another conversation and bring someone with you, for instance someone from the pastoral team or another senior youth leader. If the negative leader still won’t listen, report it to the senior pastor and/or the board, depending on how your church functions organizationally. Make sure to keep your written records of all talks so you can offer ‘proof’. Don’t carry this load alone, involve others and share the responsibility together.
Have you ever had a negative leader on your team? How did it affect you and your team? How did you solve this situation?