Purposeful Leadership

When I finished work at one of the churches where I was a pastor one of the members of the congregation who I liked and respected suggested to me that in the future it would be wise for me to consider how to lead people rather than ‘drive’ them. It was a very helpful piece of input that has made more sense with each passing year.

He had observed that when I wanted to move a bunch of people in a direction I would approach the task somewhat forcefully and with minimal room for negotiation. Many would come because they liked me and I could do the ‘visionary’ thing, (or they had no better ideas) but it had the trade off of lower buy in from others and yet another group feeling pushed around or bullied into a place they had no desire to be.

When a youth pastor does this, young people (often/usually) cheer and ‘rah-rah’ because they want someone with rabid conviction to lead them. Many want to be part of something and a strong sense of direction adds to this.

Some would call this ‘strong leadership’ and in one sense I guess it is. It requires significant strength to shove a bunch of people in a direction and keep them there. Some days though it resembles the feeling of pushing a car uphill. You exert a lot of effort to make the gains and if you take yours hands off then the whole thing rolls back the other way (and often over the top of you)

In the next phase of leadership (with Upstream), I took a much gentler more collaborative approach, but because I wasn’t very skilled at it I found it hard – and I think people found it hard. I was trying to learn a different way of leading and it wasn’t coming naturally or easily. I was naturally directive, and they knew me as such, so to invite other people into the process was not easy. I wasn’t at all sure how to genuinely engage other people’s input while still leading with strong personal conviction.

In time I found my balance again and was able to be myself in that different mode. I learnt how to invite participation and yet hold strong opinions where they mattered. (In a smaller forum directive leadership just seems completely odd anyway.)

The last couple of years at QBC have involved re-thinking leadership yet again. We are not a large church, but we are an ‘established church’ with some set protocols and procedures – for better and for worse. So it has been an interesting exercise re-discovering leadership yet again in a different context. Some folks like the strong directive leader – so long as the direction is one that they can agree with. Others like the more consultative approach and need to have their input considered. One of the challenges in leading has been simply to navigate the spectrum of expectations that exist and not to just bow to the loudest voices.

There has been a need for highly collaborative decision making at some points and at other times a need to just ‘draw a line in the sand’. I think that perhaps the last 10 years have helped me to see what things are genuinely ‘line in the sand’ issues and what are of no real consequence.

On reflection I would hope that the leadership I give now would be purposeful, but not driven and that our directions would spring from giving people the opportunities to participate in the process, yet also recognising that sometimes leaders just see stuff and know stuff and need to make decisions. And these days I feel better placed to be able to discern which decisions require which approach.

We have a church leader’s meeting tonight and part of our agenda is to look at what we feel are our priorities for the coming year and then to discuss how we begin to lead people towards these. The ‘priorities’ were agreed on in an open church day of prayer and planning towards the end of last year (an all welcome gig) and now we are looking to help people on the journey of making them more than words on a page – hence the few minutes of personal reflection…

I’d be interested to hear the observations and learnings of others who have been in a range of different leadership roles.

What have you learnt? And what are the bigger priorities that need to be considered?

3 thoughts on “Purposeful Leadership

  1. Really agree, Andrew, and it’s an area we need desperately to work on. It’s not much different in business, so I have discovered. It took me a while to discover the courage to lead as I believe it should be, which is not always from the front….

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