Shepherding Your Church – Leading as an S-Type Leader: Deep on DiSC Part 3

Strengths, challenges, and keys to success for the S or Steady-Type personality

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 138

What’s the intersection between pastoring and leading? We’re talking about that today…

A lot goes into being a high impact leader—your skills, experience, education, emotional intelligence, and your calling all contribute to your success. But your temperament and personality play a major role in how you interact with people and influence them. Leadership happens at the intersection of a person’s influence, capacity, and character. Your temperament colors all three of these factors.

Therefore, it’s helpful to understand your personality type and how it positively and negatively affects your ability to lead. Your temperament is a tool; it’s inherently amoral. Your personality isn’t evil or benevolent, but it is part of God’s divine design for your life. 

There are a lot of helpful tools for understanding your personality. At The Malphurs Group, we regularly use the DiSC Assessment. The DiSC is fairly simple to grasp, and since no tool is perfect and since people are always more nuanced than any personality tool, it’s helpful to have a tool that’s easy to grasp. It’s OK to recognize that personality assessments have limitations, but still leverage them to help you become a better leader. 

In this multi-part article and podcast series, we are exploring the primary DiSC types and how they impact your leadership. In this third installment, you’ll learn the strengths, challenges, and keys to success for the S or Steady type personality.

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The DiSC can be broken down into two key axes: a horizontal scale from task to people orientation (Left to Right) and a vertical scale from an introversion to extroversion orientation (Bottom to Top). The “S” type sits in the bottom right box with a people-orientation that is introverted.

Strengths of Steady Leaders

Genuine empathy for the congregation

The S-Type leader excels at all of the traditionally “pastoral” functions in the church–counseling, weddings, funerals, hospital visits, and general care. They tend to have a shepherd’s heart that exudes warmth. S-type leaders tend to take a “parish ministry” approach to leading the congregation, which fosters a sense of “family” in the church. 

S-type leaders enjoy long conversations, learning people at their core. They take a genuine interest in others, and this leads to mutual sense of loyalty over time. In fact, when these pastors retire, churches often struggle because it is difficult to replace their long-standing faithfulness, warmth, and emotional connection.

Understands how change will impact the ethos of the church

S-type leaders are especially tuned in to how a decision will impact the culture and ethos of the church. They’ve got a pulse on the congregation. They generally have a good sense of how people will react to various decisions. Other leader types should listen and respond to an S-type leader’s objections to how a decision will be viewed by the church. While people’s feelings should not make-or-break a decision, it’s also unwise to totally ignore the congregational mood when making decisions. (More on this in the challenges section.)

Steady leaders are also very good at navigating church politics. In churches, there is the “official” way to implement change and the “real” way. S-type leaders understand how to work through the relational, informal processes for getting things done. While they may get annoyed by church politics, they are often unusually skilled at using and working through them.

People feel known and cared for by the church

The overall culture at a church led by an S-type leader will be described as “welcoming”, “warm”, and “like a family”. Insiders will almost always describe the church this way, while newcomers may struggle to connect because it’s difficult to break into a family! But the most skillful and experienced S-type leaders know how to keep the church open to newcomers while maintaining a sense of family and warmth.

The Steady leader feels most successful when he meets people’s spiritual and emotional needs. He or she should structure their week with as much “people time” as possible, and delegate administrative tasks to a trusted C-type leader. In a revitalization situation, S-type leaders will likely need to partner with a D-type leader who will push the church in a unifying direction and make difficult decisions.

Challenges of Steady Leaders

Struggle to make decisions because of how it impacts people

While the S-type leader can generally project how a decision will impact the congregation’s mood, especially in the short term, he is likely to overestimate the number of people who might complain. S-type leaders can be guilty of using the phrase, “People are saying…” as an excuse to avoid making a decision. When this happens, push back on yourself and ask, “Who is saying, precisely?” Don’t let a handful of voices dominate your decision-making process.

The S-type leader battles the urge for total unanimity on every decision. This leads to little change in the congregation at the expense of Kingdom growth. To grow as a leader, the S-type will need to consciously choose to push through feelings of doubt and insecurity when making decisions that are unpopular or of the minority view. Remember that doing what is right and what is most popular are not always the same. Your accountability is to follow God’s call, not the congregation.

Inability to scale systems of care

The S-type leader is often the bottleneck in the church, especially as it relates to meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of others. He may feel like he needs to do every wedding, funeral, and hospital visit. Because there are only so many hours in a day, there is only so much the S-type leader can do. The S-type leader is not a skilled manager and isn’t systems-minded, therefore he needs help building systems of care.

There is a natural limit to the size of the church, based on the leader’s personal capacity to be present for counseling, weddings, funerals, hospital visits, etc. The S-type leader must learn to teach and empower others to help with pastoral care in order to sustain ministry and scale. Remember, the most loving thing you can do as a leader is to ensure that people receive the care they need–independent of your ability to do 100% of the work. If you want to have a legacy of care, you’ll need to build systems of care.

Avoiding conflict and hard conversations

S-type leaders will do everything possible to avoid difficult conversations and conflict in the church. This means that the S-type leader tends to struggle with an almost pathological level of passive aggressiveness. Rather than deal with issues head-on, they will sometimes use sarcasm, back-handed compliments, or patronizing language. S-type leaders will sometimes change their opinion to ensure that the conversation doesn’t become negative or contentious. This can make it difficult to know their actual opinion on a situation. In some cases, the S-type leader may also struggle to divorce his feeling from an analysis of the decision, so he also doesn’t know what his opinion is.

Leadership sometimes requires saying and doing things that make people angry, and the S-type leader will struggle to do this. Therefore, declining churches led by an S-type leader may struggle to mount a turnaround unless he partners up with D and C-type leaders that are willing to make difficult decisions and have hard conversations.

Key to Success

The clear call to pastoral leadership from Jesus is to feed the sheep; as an S-type leader, you should lean in to your ability to know, love, and care for people. But be on guard. Indecision and a lack of healthy conflict can feel like caring, but it actually is a disservice. Surround yourself with others who will push you to take bold steps of faith while you continue to emulate the Good Shepherd’s heart to care for the least of these.

BONUS: Watch this episode on YouTube.

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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