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July 3, 2018

How "Stretch" Assignments can Improve Your Leadership

By Daniel Im

I have three young children, so our house is well stocked with Band-Aids.

Not adhesive bandages, but Band-Aids…you know, the name brand kind that have Disney-Pixar characters on them. Now before you go and think I’m raising entitled children, let me explain the backstory.

When my children were younger, Christina and I refused to buy the over-priced character Band-Aids. We bought the generic kind with no designs. I then would take a pen and draw a smiley face, panda, or bunny on it.

My children loved it. They didn’t think it was cheap, by any means! After all, I was giving them a custom, handcrafted, one-of-a-kind bandage to cover up their cut, scrape, or wound. Unfortunately, that only worked when they were toddlers. Now, the only thing that is acceptable, in their opinion, is a Band-Aid with a character on it.

Oh how things change…

Alright, design aside, I’ve found that Band-Aids do actually work better than the generic kind. They last longer and do a better job keeping the water out, which is actually part of the problem. Since the cheap ones often come off within the day, my children will remind me that they need a new one. However, with Band-Aids, if I’m not paying attention, days might pass before I remember to change it.

This is fine if I remembered to clean the wound and treat it with an antibiotic before covering it with a Band-Aid. But what if I didn’t? What if I just put the Band-Aid on immediately after, and didn’t take time to clean or treat it? And then I left it on for a few days without checking it?

My children would likely get an infection at best. At worst, they’d need surgical debridement and antibiotics.

This is because Band-Aids are just that…they’re an aid to the healing process. They can’t do it alone.

Have you ever been given a “stretch” assignment?

Something that you’ve never done before? Something that you had to go get help to complete? Something that you had to research and develop new skills for, in order to get it done?

Leaders use “stretch” assignments to challenge individuals on their team. They know that it’s extra work and that the team member might not be ready for it, but it’s a way to discover potential and build capacity. Essentially, it’s a real life test of an individual’s competency, character, tenacity, and grit.

However, it’s important to note that completion of the assignment, in and of itself, is not the only goal. The way the team member reacts to the assignment, prioritizes it, and works through it is just as important:

  • How did they react when given the assignment?
  • Did they ask clarifying questions immediately? Or later?
  • How did they prioritize the assignment in light of their existing workload?
  • How did it affect performance in their other work?
  • Did they recruit others to help?
  • Did they delegate it, dump it, or do it?

“Stretch” assignments, when used appropriately, will move your team members out of boredom and comfort, to a new level of effectiveness and productivity. When overused, however, they have the potential to lead to burnout.

So use them…with caution.

Are “Stretch” Assignments Band-Aid Solutions?

When used by themselves, yes they are.

“Stretch” assignments aid the development of leaders, but they’re not the way to develop leaders. They’re not a silver bullet solution.

If you’re serious about “stretching” the individuals on your team and in your church, you need to think about competencies and culture. More specifically, I’m referring to the people development competency and a developmental culture.

When your team members are engaged in their work, they’re more likely to own what they do, go the extra mile, and do one more thing.

In fact, in Gallup’s extensive research on engagement, they discovered that there’s a correlation between being developed at work and an individual’s level of engagement. In their Q12 survey, there are several statements focused on measuring an employee’s development, such as,

  • There is someone at work who encourages my development
  • In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
  • This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow

How would you answer these questions for those on your team? How would people on your team answer those questions?

In order to “stretch” individuals to greater levels of performance, productivity, and potential, yes, you can leverage “stretch” assignments, but first, you need to clean and treat the wound, so that it doesn’t become a Band-Aid solution.

In other words, you need to create a culture of development and identify what proficiency looks like in the people development competency.

When you do this, “stretch” assignments cease to be one-offs or Band-Aid solutions to problems. Instead, they become a part of a larger framework devoted to developing every team member to their fullest potential for kingdom impact.

Share the Good Stuff

In conclusion, use “stretch” assignments. They’re good and they work well in light of the caveats above. But when you do hand out “stretch” assignments, resist the urge to delegate what you don’t like doing. Share the good stuff. Share something that you love doing.

Who knows? They might discover a way to do it better. And the whole team would be better for it.


Daniel Im

Daniel Im (@danielsangi) is the Director of Church Multiplication for NewChurches.com at LifeWay Christian Resources. He is a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville. He is the author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry, and co-author of Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply (2nd ed) with Ed Stetzer. He also co-hosts the New Churches Q&A Podcast, the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast, and a brand new podcast with his wife on marriage and parenting called the IMbetween Podcast. He has an M.A. in Global Leadership and has served and pastored in church plants and multisite churches ranging from 100 people to 50,000 people in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Korea, Edmonton, and Nashville. Visit Danielim.com to learn more.


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