Help! My “Leader” Isn’t Leading!

by Andy Wood on September 14, 2009

in Leadership, Life Currency, LV Alter-egos, Pleasers

bad leaderLast week I was having a “what do I do” conversation with a youth pastor in another city.  Seems he found himself at an impasse with his boss – the senior pastor of the church – over what leadership was supposed to look like.  His take on it:  the “leader” isn’t leading anybody.  Not him, not the others involved in the problem.  Nobody.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a frustrated children’s pastor about a supervisor who was repeatedly letting important details fall through the cracks.  It got so bad, the  entire church leadership team was hindered in getting their work done.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve counseled or consulted with employees or constituents – inside and outside Church World – who are crying out for visionary, heart-based leadership.  All they get instead are insecure emperors, oilers of the machinery, or absent-minded trips down memory lane.

Whenever I hear yet another story of position holders who are failing the people they’re supposed to be leading, I have two knee-jerk reactions.  First, I want to take up the constituents’ offense.  I want to bark and growl and roll my eyes and look incredulously and fuss and fume.  Second, I wonder if anybody could issue the same complaint about me if they were completely honest.

Just for laughs, why don’t we stick out necks out and try on an idea.  Leadership failures aren’t the result of somebody setting out to ruin an organization or to make your life or work miserable.  (Hey, I said “try it on”… if it doesn’t fit, we can fuss and fume some more later.)  Assuming that’s true, then, where do we go wrong?  How do leaders begin to suck the life out of people or organizations?  Here are 10 things to watch for:

1.  When you lose touch with your life calling or sense of mission.

I can’t tell you how many men and women lose touch with themselves because somebody offered them a promotion or a few more dollars to take a management position.  You will have far more impact from working out of your own sense of mission or purpose than you ever will filling a hole just for the sake of a pay raise or a little power.

2.  When you forget what it’s like to serve.

Your leadership will grow out of your place of service over time.  It’s unfortunate, however, that people in power positions sometimes develop “service amnesia.”  If your idea of leadership somehow makes you too good to move chairs, haul out trash, or defer to somebody else’s ideas, then you’re well on your way to becoming a terror(ist) to the people who serve you.

3.  When you live in the arena of the problem instead of the universe of solutions.

Leadership arises out of a need for solutions to problems or challenges.  Sometimes, however, the problems seem so big, or come at us with such frequency, we become used to living in the arena of the problem.  A world of answers, solutions, and possibilities awaits the woman or man who can keep themselves or their teams pointed there.  But if all you can see is the problem, then all you can offer your constituents is grief.

4.  When habit and routine replaces vision and purpose.

It’s completely human to have routines and habits.  But somebody had better remember why those routines exist in the first place.  Leadership implies you are going somewhere, and asking others to join you.  But nobody wants to join you on a treadmill or revolving-door ride.

5.  When you lose confidence in your abilities or your people.

If you don’t believe in the beauty of your ideas or dreams, why should anybody else?  If you don’t believe you can do it, or your team can do it, I promise, neither you nor they will do it.  You don’t have to be arrogant to lead (surprise!), but you absolutely must be confident.

6.  When you try to lead outside your areas of talent or giftedness.

bad leader 2(Sigh.  Where to start…?)  Laurence Peter’s whimsical (but often true) contribution to the world is that in hierarchical organizations, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.  Sometimes we all have to face the stress of leading outside our abilities for a season.  But long-term, this is a killer.  You can’t lead people where you aren’t capable of going.

7.  When you’re defeated by your own personal dragons.

You can get away with it for a while.  But unless you get free of that addiction, overcome that personal problem, or deal with that life crisis, it will eventually show up and clock in at work.  On the other hand, when you do invest the time to deal with you own, uh, “stuff,” you may actually find whole new vistas of leadership opening up before you.

8.  When you fail to live by the principles you (or your organization) profess.

Your leadership is only as good as the principles you live by – not necessarily the ones you profess.  Nobody is interested in your clichés about “superior customer service” or “putting people first.”  If your customer service truly is superior (doubtful), the customers will do the bragging for you.  And if people really come first, it will be most readily seen in the people who work closest with you.

9.  When your decision-making is weak, slow, or ineffective.

Leadership is measured by your ability to take clear, decisive action.  Hey, I get team-based decision making.  I totally understand empowering team members.  But if your idea of moving forward is getting a group of indecisive or argumentative people together for a whining session or ADD therapy, you are no leader.  You’re just the guy serving drinks while the Titanic is going down.

10.  When you fail to “do the ask” and call people to commitment.

In general, people will be as committed to the direction of your leadership as you ask them to be.  Ask any sales trainer, and he/she will tell you that sooner or later you have to hand somebody a pen and ask for the order.  The same is true for anybody who leads either volunteers or professionals.  Wimpy leaders don’t want to bother people.  They just flame out because they tried to do it all themselves. But in their effort to keep everybody happy, they “lead” the organization into a hole.


So what do you do when you you’re the one who’s crying out for leadership and not getting any?  More on that later. [UPDATE:  Click here.] In the meantime, focus on being part of the solution rather than being part of the problem.  You maintain your own personal and corporate vision, and commitment to serve.

Of course, you can always print up this article and slide it under you-know-who’s door.  Just make sure to wear gloves… Li’l Napoleon may check for fingerprints.

will September 16, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Great post! I am going to use it for personal reference. How about a #11, when you decide what you are is a facilitator? I have a decade of involvement with poor leaders who use the excuse they are facilitators. I know what it is to be a facilitator, it is a valuable role, and needed, but the church cries out for Spirit filled leaders. Facilitating leaders is a worthwhile endeavor, facilitating followers means nothing positive will come.
.-= will´s last blog ..My Daughter finds a new Worship Group =-.

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