Thursday, May 07, 2009

Defining "Leader"

One of the key roles of a leader in a church or serving organization is multiplication--that is, the ongoing work of identifying and developing new leaders to extend their reach and multiply the impact of the church or organization. Most leaders work to accomplish this by creating apprentice systems or curriculum-based programs designed to train a potential leader to fill the role. Too often, however, leaders jump into this process without first asking a vital foundational question:

What is a leader?

How your organization answers that question will shape every aspect of leadership development you create from there on out. When I have leaders take the time to genuinely explore this question, they generally discover that their assumed definition of "leader"--that is, the definition they naturally gravitate towards--is far too narrow, and effectively blinds them from seeing or engaging with the full potential for leadership within their organization. Here's what I mean: Most church leaders tend to define leadership in terms of the organization--i.e. You are a leader if you fill a specific leadership role in the organizational structure. So staff members, or volunteers holding organizational posts--these are the leadership roles leaders see, and tend to train (exclusively) for.

But what happens when you define leadership in terms of the organism (i.e. the entire relational community) rather than just in terms of the organization? Suddenly a host of leaders show up on the radar that were previously invisible. For example, what about the woman in your church who organizes and leads relief efforts through the Red Cross in your community? Or the man who meets informally with a group of young men each week to mentor them thru life's challenges? Or the musical artist who regularly invites other musicians from the community over to his house to jam together and talk about life? Or the family that takes in foster children from third world countries? All of these folks, you realize, are leaders within your organization's relational world. You begin to see that leadership has much more to do with influence than it does with an organizational position. As John Quincy Adams rightly said, "If your actions inspire others to do more, and to become more, then you are a leader."

We sometimes forget that the church organization is designed to serve the church organism, and not the other way around.

So what happens when organizational leaders define "leadership" in these broader terms? Well first, you begin to see how limited and limiting most of our organizational leadership training programs really are, and how many people they "miss" altogether. Not that we shouldn't train people to take on leadership roles in the organization--of course we should! But a broader definition of "leader" turns the focus outward, and shifts our thoughts toward a more missional mindset. Leadership development becomes less about "How can we recruit them to join us?" and more about "How can we come alongside and serve them?" How can we as leaders begin to support, provide resources for and even train the people of influence (i.e. leaders!) in our church or serving community to increase their impact and multiply themselves?

I find that when leaders begin asking questions like these, two things happen: Leadership Development becomes a lot more messy and harder to measure. It also becomes a lot more powerful and life-giving--both for the leaders and for those they lead.

What's your definition of "leader"?


Gloria Rose said...

Yes, Michael, well said. "Coming serve them" must surely be the frontier for churches now. I'd add: "What can we as a church do to strengthen our influencers and create more like them?" There is so much untapped potential sitting in the pew. To spur us on, I blog: OPEN MIC: FINDING YOUR TRUE VOICE - and follow your blog!

MistiPearl said...

You asked about challenges in leadership...from a female perspective take a peek.
Good writing to you!