Leading in Shades of Grey

Leadership is messy.

I find myself saying this phrase often.  I think one of the most challenging things about leadership is that most times things are not clearly black and white… answers are not always obvious… making decisions is not easy.  If they were, leadership would be easy and, dare I say, perhaps not even necessary.

Leadership is grey… sometimes many shades of grey.

These last few months have been especially grey for our team at Cross Point.  I don’t mean grey as in gloomy, dreary or sad.  I mean grey as in complex, not always clear, layered, not black and white.  I’ve spent the past few months trying to help our team turn the corner from being a church with another campus to truly being a multi-campus church.  This has required a significant shift in our mindset, our structure, our communication, our strategy and more.  Many times of late, one of our ministry leaders will come to me with a question about how to handle a decision that affects both campuses and it will cause me to pause and sort through the layers of grey.  Some of these decisions are immediately clear.  Most times they are complicated and require the work of leading through the layers of grey.

All of this greyness has caused me to ponder this element of leadership that I refer to as “leading in shades of grey”.

Good leaders lead through the grey. They don’t get lost in it.  They don’t get bogged down by it.  They push through it to find clarity.

Good leaders give hope to a grey existence. They offer hope through grey circumstances.  They are aware of how unsettling greyness is to the team and they continue to motivate and encourage them through the process.

Deciphering the grey is not an exact science.  It’s as easy to get wrong as it is to get right… and you’re not always going to get it right.  It takes guts, courage, intuition, discernment, and prayer.  It takes energy, patience, hope and determination.  Leaders step up to help make decisions and to guide the way, especially when things are messy…

…and grey.

Are you facing some grey areas in your leadership?  What can you do to push through the grey?

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  • Andy Borgmann January 5, 2009  

    Great post Jenni. I had a class in college that took two whole semesters that all I basically learned was what you wrote here.

    If more churches/ministers/leaders realized that, “answers are not always obvious” I think the church would be a much more grace-filled organization.

    I was very grateful for taking that class and the professors that always taught us to step back and examine all the angles and think through the decisions necessary for true leadership.

  • Tracey Smith January 6, 2009  

    Great post! Most leaders can usually find someone who has either “done it” or knows someone who can give some great insight on the topic. Lately, we have been working on the topic “Online Small Groups.” Sounds easy but we can’t find someone who has “done it” (well) or even can give us insight on the topic. It has been fun but also challenging to say the least. I wonder how the pioneering church leaders felt everytime God handed them a NEW tool to use to reach people. I am reminded that God would not have handed it to us (whatever the leadership decision may be) if He didn’t know that it could be completed. My dad always said…”You didn’t think it would be easy, did you?”

  • Jenni Catron January 6, 2009  

    @Andy and @Tracey, I think sometimes as leaders we act surprised when things are difficult or challenging. A mentor of mine used to say to me “it if was easy, everyone would do it”.

  • Nick January 6, 2009  

    Yes! I am definitely facing some gray areas in my leadership, definitely some unknowns and some uncharted territories. Some of the things I am doing to help push through the gray is to #1 pray, it doesn’t take long in ministry to realize we cannot do anything without Christ, so gray areas push me to more prayer #2 to keep moving forward. I’ve found that gray areas in the past have a way of making me throw myself in neutral and to stand still or to get paralyzed (Ha! CP’s new series) anyway, if I keep moving forward in the direction I know the Lord has guided me and led me then even if I fail, I at least know I was obedient. I love what Erwin McManus says in Chasing Daylight, “Sometimes, you just have to do something” We can never get anywhere if we are stuck in neutral. #3 Watch, Listen, and Learn – Whether its through books, blogs, podcasts, videos…I know I do not know it all, but there are people who have faced some of the same gray areas I am either facing or will face, so sometimes I just have to shut up and listen and to learn from others. As Proverbs says, “Iron Sharpens Iron” and there is no better time to be sharpened than when we face the gray, I believe that is when God has our attention to the place where we truly listen and can be stretched and challenged, I think those are the times I grow the most.

  • Jenni Catron January 6, 2009  

    @Nick – I LOVE your thoughts on this – you should have written this post!!

  • patrowland January 6, 2009  

    Jenni, I’m glad you are here to help push us through the grey issues. Sometimes the grey can seem to tough of an issue and it appears easier to just walk away. The problem is the issue never goes away, it will resurface again. I’m thankful for the people around me that are willing to continue to push through the grey!!! Thanks again.

  • davetacular January 6, 2009  

    my experience is that grey is the only place innovation can exist… good thoughts Jenni

  • jan owen January 6, 2009  

    i’m in the fog right now. literally and figuratively.

  • Heidi January 6, 2009  

    I really loved this post!!!
    I so can relate.
    I have an awesome pastor team who enables me to pass through the grey by giving me the resources first and also the confidence and belief that I can do it and do it even better than last time.

  • Jenni Catron January 6, 2009  

    @patrowland and @davetacular – I’m thankful to work through the grey with you guys! Thanks for your patience and persistence as we navigate it together!

    @Jan – you’ve definitely faced many grey circumstances… I admire your faithfulness to push through.

    @Heidi – I’m so glad that you are blessed with a good team that empowers you and supports you!

  • Elena Stoeckig January 7, 2009  

    I am a black and white thinker and sometimes it’s really hard to spend time in the grey area. My husband is a grey thinker. When I’m having to make a difficult decision I will usually go to a grey thinker because they will throw out all kinds of ideas and options and it really helps me to see the bigger picture. I’m visual so it’s almost as if I can see many options floating out there and I just grab one, make a decision and go with it.
    I’ve had to learn patience when dealing with grey thinkers but also how to motivate them along. Sometimes they will sit in the grey with a thousand ideas but never make a decision hahaha On the other hand, I’m sure the grey thinkers look at me, being a black and white thinker, as closed minded or a person who is too quick to make decisions. Regardless, when a team is swimming in grey layers, I think the leader should be courageous and confident in the final decision. At the same time, encouraging the team and leading beside them not miles ahead.
    I love both types of thinkers and thank God when we all come together 🙂

  • Jenni Catron January 7, 2009  

    @Elena – I love your perspective on how our personalities play into grey thinking. You’re right, some people are much more comfortable in the grey areas others just want things cleanly black or white. I think we all have to learn to live with the tension of both and understand how to balance them.

  • Ricky Cook January 7, 2009  

    Jenni, just reading your post makes me feel confident because I’m not the only one who feels like there’s grey to push through. Often I feel like I’ve got to have the right answers right now. Praying intensely while pushing through is not a bad place to be then. Thanks for the post!

  • mandie January 8, 2009  

    I’ve kind of been experiencing some of those grey areas. I’m a small group leader for high school girls. And through these past few months that I’ve been leading I’ve found myself wishing that it was always just black and white. I’ve also found myself so thankful for all of the small group leaders that I’ve had. Now I know that they probably didn’t have the easiest job.
    But leading through the grey-ness has got me learning more about others and myself. It’s been teaching me how to lead through the easiest and hardest of circumstances. It’s been teaching me how to lead different types of people.
    So maybe I’m finding myself a little bit thankful for some of those grey areas…not the fact that they are there…but more for what comes out of them.

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