by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director, LEAD

As leaders, we have our hands on the thermostat when it comes to leading change in our circles of influence and managing the heat may be our number one work.

The perfect temperature is right before the pot starts to boil! (That sweet spot between simmering and boiling over.)

Managing the heat is the practice of adaptive leadership.
And to do this, you need to check the temperature sooner than later.

If your congregation feels complacent or apathetic, chances are there’s not enough heat in the system. A lack of urgency, energy or commitment is a good indicator that it is time to set a stretch goal that engages the heart, encouraging new questions and faith imagination. Congregational systems will always prefer stability but too much stability is more dangerous than too much disequilibrium. In these cases, it is the role of the staff and the council to turn up the heat. A comfortable leadership system is a sign of decline.

If your congregation is racing around and reacting in every direction, it could be time to turn down the heat. Leaders who dig in their heels and insist on their own way, regardless of the cost, usually get burned.

When it gets too hot, leaders forget that people don’t resist change, they resist loss. If the loss is too great or happening too fast, the grief will show up in all kinds of negative ways. This is a pretty good indicator that it is time to cool things off for a while – but not so long that passions grow completely cold (and turn inward).

There is an art to managing the heat and The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifiz, Grashow and Linsky can be a really helpful field guide. LEAD coaches are skilled at helping congregational staff discover the best temperature for their congregations, and great at helping them get things warmed up after a cold spell.

The worst thing we can do as leaders is to do nothing at all. Don’t do this alone. Gather a team. Ask for outside support.

Build a coalition of the willing and incrementally crank up the heat. Another resource that may be helpful to you: Leading Through Change: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Rev. Sue Phillips.