How lasagne changed my leadership

Tim Alford shares how a conversation about the food on the menu led to him to look for people on his team who were different to him and the other “players” on the team.

Have you ever had a conversation that changed the way you lead completely?

As I reflect back over the last five years, I can think of just two occasions where I’ve had a conversation that was so significant my leadership changed in that very moment. And one of them was about lasagne…

Several years ago I was leading a summer festival event. We were drawing towards the end of the week when I crossed paths in the car park with Jordan, a youth leader from a large inner-city church who had been attending the camp with his young people. We got to chatting about the event so I asked for his feedback. Jordan reflected that his young people had encountered Jesus and had a brilliant time, “but there’s just one thing,” Jordan added, (and I quote), “black kids don’t eat lasagne.”

He went on to explain how our catering menu had not adequately catered for the tastes of his black-majority group; “not enough favour, more spice,” he explained. And while we did change the menu the following year, it wasn’t the jerk chicken (although delicious!) that changed my leadership forever. Because though on the surface that conversation was about food, it revealed a significant leadership blindspot that I was unaware of until that moment.

See, real the problem wasn’t the menu, the real problem was that I didn’t have anyone on my team who would notice there was a problem with the menu. The real problem was that my team had too many people who eat lasagne, and not enough people who eat jerk chicken. The real problem was that my team had too many people who looked and thought like me. The real problem was that my team lacked diversity and representation, and because of this, my team lacked perspective.

When your team is full of people like you; who look like you, talk like you; think like you; and share the same gender, ethnicity, or cultural background as you, your team is deficient because it lacks the perspective of the people who are not represented there. As a result, you may be approving ideas, or delivering sessions, or casting visions that do not resonate with and will not engage the people who are not represented on your team. Make no mistake, building culturally, ethnically and gender diverse teams is not about tokenism, it’s about ensuring that you have that perspectives you need to make robust leadership decisions.

Think of it this way. Lionel Messi is (arguably) the best footballer of all time. His control, passing and dribbling are second to none. His goal scoring record is incredible. His stats are mind-boggling. And yet, if you had eleven Lionel Messi’s, you would not have a good team. Why? Because a strong team is not made up of people who are all good at the same thing. A good team also needs a goalkeeper. It requires a few good defenders. It needs a playmaker in midfield, pace on the wings, and someone strong in the air. In other words, to construct a good team, you need diversity.

You see, the lasagne conversation changed my leadership from that moment because the way I constructed my teams changed from that moment. No longer was I simply looking for people who had the highest level of skill, the greatest amount of experience, or even the most spiritual maturity. Now I was looking for people who were different to me and different from the other “players” on the team. I was intentionally on the lookout for people who would see things from a different point of few, from a different perspective, and from a different cultural background. I was seeking team members who could represent young people who would experience our ministry in a different way to I experience it. And I cannot tell you how much richer our team, our ministry, and my leadership is for it.

I have loved the learning that has been afforded to me by these leaders. I am refreshed by how they have opened my eyes to different perspectives. And I am grateful for how they have helped to shape our events and ministries in a way that makes them more engaging and accessible for people from all sorts of ethnicities and backgrounds. And while I am certainly no expert and am still very much on a learning journey with this stuff, one thing I can tell you is this: If you want a strong team, you need diversity.

We would do well to remember that the picture of heaven in the book of Revelation is of a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language (Revelation 7:9). Our purpose as the people of God is less about getting to heaven, and more about getting heaven here. So let’s build ministries that engage people from every tribe, by ensuring that our teams represent the different perspectives they need to thrive.

Now then, anyone for a lasagne?

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Director of LIMITLESS

Tim Alford lives in Malvern with is wife Jen, son Tobijah and daughter Aria.

He is the National Director of LIMITLESS, the youth movement of Elim Pentecostal Churches in the UK and Ireland. He is a passionate communicator of the gospel, having spoken at churches, conferences, schools and events all over the world. Tim is the former frontman of [dweeb], a frustrated supporter of Arsenal, and has on more than one occasion been to the cinema in Star Wars fancy dress.


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