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Leadership Level 1

Leadership is a Process, not a Position

Leadership is a mystery to most of us. It can often feel like we are walking through a heavy fog, knowing where we want to go but lacking the ability to see clearly how to get there. Some students of leadership think of it in theoretical terms; they study it, research it, debate it, but never get around to actually leading a group of people forward. They are like the proverbial armchair quarterback who can tell you all you care to know about football, but he has never made a tackle and would not know how to call a play on the field if given the opportunity.

John Maxwell makes leadership as clear as it can be made in his book, Five Levels of Leadership. We are fine-tuning his system of leadership development for use by pastors who have a desire to grow beyond their current level of influence. In my interviews with pastors, this is a recurring theme: How can we develop better leaders in our church? How can we attract quality leaders to our congregation? How can I influence more people? We will be rolling out the system in the next few months, but here is a preview of what we are learning:

The first level of leadership is the Position level. Its power rests in a position and people usually follow this leader because they have to; the leader holds the rights of the title. Level 1 pastors say things like, “It’s my way or the highway,” or, “There’s the door, don’t let it hit you in the behind on your way out.” Their word is the final word, every decision has to go through them, and anyone who questions them is ostracized. They are, after all, the pastor. Treasurers, deacon chairmen, departmental leaders, worship leaders, choir members, committee members, anyone with a position in a church can, and often do, lead at this level. These leaders have great difficulty growing healthy ministries.

When we were kids on the farm we played “king of the hill;” there are no hills in eastern New Mexico, so we used tall stacks of baled hay to see who was strong enough to stay at the highest point of the stack. The positional leader feels pressured to stay at the top, set apart from others, but good leadership is about walking beside people and helping them get to the top with you. The positional leader is often lonely, insecure and feels easily threatened. On the farm, when we finally earned the right to be at the top of the haystack, we could never let our guard down for fear of being blindsided and toppled from our lofty, and lonely, position.

If you think you are stuck at this level of leadership, and can only see fog around you, take heart: there is a way up and out.

Next month we will look at some specific actions a leader can take to leave this entry level of leadership and move to a better, and more influential, level.


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