By Eddie Pipkin

Confession time: I have zero sense of fashion.  Well, maybe zero is too favorable a score – maybe it would be a negative number would be more honest.  I basically have one pair of jeans I’ve been wearing for the past three years, while rotating my three favorite shirts.  But oddly, I like reading about people in the fashion industry.  I like reading about their creative process.  They work in a field that insists on constant innovation.  That’s why I was intrigued to see that fashion and journalism icon Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, had decided to host a masterclass on “how to be a boss.”  She’s famous for her prickly and demanding personality (expertly captured in The Devil Wears Prada), but I was surprised to see how relevant her leadership advice is to all you ministry professionals out there (whatever you may be wearing).

It will cost you $90 to take the actual class (12 video lessons of wisdom), but you can read various summaries of what she has to say, and I’m happy to tease out some key pieces of advice for you that lend themselves well to the kind of leadership involved in ministry work.

Her salient points will not shock you.  You have heard versions of them from many sources before.  What I’d like to you to pay particular attention to, however, is the way the advice she gives seems counter-intuitive given her reputation as a “take no prisoners” leader.  Digging deeper into her leadership style, it turns out she has built her empire through a much more collaborative process than you might expect.  This is relevant for ministry leaders – especially you clergy folk – because ministry leaders often wield so much personal power within the organizations that they lead.

Here are some of the (perhaps unexpected) insights she offers:

  • You must build strong teams if you hope to succeed.

“You are nothing, nothing, without a good team. So I have always tried to surround myself with people that I enjoy — people whose opinions I respect, whose minds I respect, whose taste I respect, that isn’t always in line with mine.”

Building a good team is critical in so many ways.  Among the churches we consult with here at Excellence in Ministry Coaching, one of the defining factors as to whether a congregation is healthy, engaged, and growing is the quality of the teams that lead it.  Strong teams mean good outcomes.  Weak teams lead to dysfunction.

  • Don’t be afraid to hire people who have skill sets that you do not possess.

“I like to hire people who can do things I couldn’t possibly dream of doing.  I have learned to love a surprise.”

Don’t be intimidated by having people on your team that are way better than you are at certain stuff.  This is not about ego protection.  The fact that you have people on board who are more gifted in certain areas (and even sometimes in the same areas in which you are pretty gifted but not as gifted as they are) is a reason to celebrate, not be touchy.

  • Act with confidence and integrity.

“Being a leader means making tough decisions and taking full responsibility for them.”

Be decisive and own your decisiveness.  Don’t overthink things — don’t get bogged down in the 7,000 available options and what can go right or wrong with each possible choice.  Make a decision and move forward, and don’t waste time second-guessing what you decided.  Momentum is important, so if you keep moving forward (and keep your team moving forward), even if a decision does not work out as you had hoped, you are on to the next thing before you have a chance to mope too much.

  • Give fast and direct feedback. Keep things moving.

“People work so much better when the feedback is fast, it’s direct, it’s honest and they know where they are.”

If you have a quick thought (especially when it’s a word of affirmation) text it out right then.  If you have more critical feedback, deliver it as soon as the next reasonable (but not disruptive) opportunity arises.  Communicate the feedback clearly — even negative feedback, delivered surgically and constructively, before moving on to the next order of business, can make a team member feel empowered.  It shows you are invested in their growth and excellence.  The worst feeling for a subordinate (paid staff member or volunteer) is to be left twisting in the wind, unsure how you felt about something.

  • Let your team members do their thing.

“I actually feel very strongly it’s important to empower those that are working with you.  I think it’s a far more effective way of achieving the best results of making people feel that they are self-starters.”

Wintour believes strongly that a boss should not micromanage.  Even if you build a very strong team, if you force that team to perform with their hands tied behind their backs, there won’t be any point in having built the great team.  Invest more of your time and effort in training, nurturing, and encouraging your team members than in micromanaging every little detail of the projects and priorities they have been assigned.

And while I have you, and while we are in the general ballpark of the topic, let’s have a chat about the actual fashion choices of ministry leaders, focusing on what we wear when we’re up front or on stage in a leadership role.  Here are some observations:

  • Don’t work so hard to be cool.  There is a new “preaching uniform” as codified as a robe and stole — this is mainly true for guys: the hipster preacher look.  If that’s your legitimate vibe, fine.  But if not, it feels like a pose, stagey.
  • Be true to who you are.  Authenticity is the key, not the right brand or the right hairstyle, so be thoughtful about what you’re wearing, but embrace your own personality.  If you’re a nerd, be a nerd.  If you’re a free spirit, be a free spirit.
  • Get some help if you need it (and even if you don’t).  If you don’t have a confident sense of personal style, consult some folks in your congregation who do.  They will love that you asked them.  You don’t have to run off willy-nilly doing a makeover based on their feedback, but they may be able to give you solid direction, tweaking a thing or two here and there to up your game.
  • Be intentional about displaying team spirit. It’s a great idea to wear shirts, jackets, and other options that celebrate your ministries.  Wear that youth hoodie to preach one Sunday.  Wear the t-shirt that celebrates your outreach ministry.  Wear stuff that celebrates social justice initiatives.  Wear stuff that celebrates the community (local high schools, charities, and arts organizations).  Make a point of being photographed with purposeful gear on for social media posts!
  • Be mindful of those you serve.  What we wear and how we wear it can subtly communicate our values.  It can inspire.  Conversely, it can make people feel uncomfortable.

What unexpected profession do you to look for inspiration?  Have you had experience that confirms Anna Wintour’s leadership advice?  Have you worked for a boss who was demanding and difficult without exhibiting any of the positive leadership qualities  that energize a team?  Do you have fashionable leadership advice of your own?  And by all means, do you have sartorial observations about ministry leaders should dress for success?  Share it all in the comments section below!