Like a lot of things in life there is a continuum, a spectrum in styles of leadership. As a leader you can be at one extreme or the other or, healthily, in the middle with good balance. When it describes how you tend to lead, here are two examples of leadership neither of which are healthy and both of which are, unfortunately, prevalent.
This is where you try to be the 4th person of the Trinity. All knowing, all powerful, all present (in every decision). Pastor Sam Storms called this “Bully Leadership” (1 Peter 5:3) and you can read his thoughts here. This entails lording it over people; controlling out of insecurity, fear and pride. I remember Lorne Sanny, former president of the Navigators, saying, “It was a wonderful day the day I resigned as master of the universe.” There is only one master of the universe, fellow leader, and it isn’t you!
It’s been my experience that when you have high trust you can live with low control. But when you have low trust you tend to exercise high control. We play God because we don’t trust others. The first rung of the ladder in Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions of a leader is absence of trust. The bottom line is when we don’t trust those we lead we default to controlling them and playing God in their work; making all the decisions, coming up with all the ideas, solving all the problems and taking all the credit. Can I give you two words: STOP IT!
And on the other end of the spectrum is playing safe and being afraid to make decisions; even those that fall to your lot and that you should be making. In my morning time with the Lord, I recently came across Matthew 25:26-30, a disturbing story Jesus told about taking reasonable risks.
“The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest. Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this play-it-safe who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.” The Message
Playing safe means living out of faith rather than fear. What if I fail? What if lose respect? What if we lose money? What if it doesn’t work? What if they were right and I was wrong? The “What if” game can kill leadership.
There is absolutely no innovation without failure. Willing to take reasonable chances and risks is the mark of a true leader. We need to be more concerned for the glory of God than our glory, our reputation, or our image. We should be led by him, empowered by him and honoring him.
How about becoming more like an eagle, soaring to new heights? Do you find yourself bored with the maintenance of the machinery…yawning through the review of the rules. Are you restless to cut a new swath? Would you like to feel excited rather than intimidated by potential risks?
Are you up for ruffling a few feathers, and willing to stop trying to keep everybody happy? Step out of your comfort zone into the danger zone by His grace and with His help.
Okay, now the hard part. Which way do you tend to go? You might not be all the way there with either playing God or playing safe, but which way do you tend to lean? Be honest now! Here’s a novel thought. Why not ask your team/staff. Encourage them to level with you. Which way do they think you tend to lead?