That’s right – good leaders know when NOT to lead. Most of the time leaders are responsible to stand up, speak up, and show the way. However, there are also times to step back. I remember twice in my tenure as pastor when it was better to let someone else lead the church forward…
- Inexperience: Our growing church required a larger facility; my research revealed we needed at least five acres of land. But the building committee was not so sure about me: I was in my mid-twenties and had never led a building program. They needed a voice of experience. A tall man in his 50’s with white hair, a deep voice and credentials showed up, and I stepped back. He affirmed everything I had been trying to say. We bought 30 acres.
- Changes in Governance: As the church continued to grow, governance structures needed to change. If you want to surface deep-seated fears around control, try changing the authority and decision-making structures in a church! If I pushed this issue forward alone, some would view it as a power grab. So we called in the CEO of a Christian leadership organization and asked him to comment on our situation. Resistance was circumvented because he said it, not me.
Now I’m the guy with gray hair speaking as the outside voice. Here are situations I’ve recently been invited into:
- Setting a standard for pastors. A denomination asked me to come and describe what a healthy pastor looks like. I’ve studied this question thoroughly and was happy to speak about it.
- Vision Evaluation. A denomination’s Regional Director wanted honest feedback on a major vision. He presented the vision and excused himself from the room. I facilitated an open discussion and wrote a summary report.
- Staff Development. A large church is currently without a senior pastor. The staff has stepped into leadership like never before. I’ve been invited to conduct a series of leadership development retreats.
- Stabilizing a Church. Churches can go through difficult times which may result in loss of confidence in its leaders. I was invited as an objective outside voice, which stabilized the situation and encouraged the leadership.
Good leaders recognize that for the mission to go forward, someone else may need to be involved. In each of these situations leaders continue to lead, but not from a visible place. Strategic leadership often requires stepping out of the limelight to allow others to say what needs to be said.