The most influential contributor to the growth of an organization is the growth of its leaders.
When a leader stops growing, he/she limits the growth of the entity they lead. They become a bottleneck.
A recent survey of business people from both large and small organizations revealed that the vast majority encounter company bottlenecks on a regular basis. When asked about the source of the bottlenecks, here were the top four responses:
- Poor communication
- Too much work
- Confusing processes
- Lack of training
Responsibility for these bottlenecks falls primarily on an organization’s leaders. The bottle-necking factor in most cases—business world or church world—is the inability or unwillingness of leaders to grow, innovate, and let go.
Let’s use the local church as an example. As a church passes certain size plateaus, the way decisions are made changes, the people who make those decisions change, and the leadership function has to adapt accommodate the growth. You can’t lead a church of 400 the same way you lead a church of 200 and stay healthy organizationally at the same time.
The leadership model that brought the church you lead to where it is now probably won’t get the church to where God wants it to go next.
So how can a leader avoid becoming their organization’s bottleneck? How does a leader get out of their team’s way? Let me suggest three behaviors:
1. Stay Teachable
Proverbs tells us bluntly that “He who hates correction is stupid.” Ouch. Teach-ability is more than gathering data. Teach-ability includes letting that data transform our character, behavior, relationships, and yes, even the way we lead. The longer we lead, the harder we have to work at staying teachable. It’s incredibly easy for a leader to become smug and arrogant, especially if they’ve experienced some measure of success.
Being willing to learn from other leaders who are a bit further down the road in their leadership skill helps you to uncork the bottleneck. If we succeed at teach-ability, our church has a much better chance of reaching/discipling more people.
2. Stay Experimental
At my home church, our lead pastor often says, “Everything is an experiment.” This approach takes the pressure off. It loosens the bottleneck. It frees people to dream and to take chances.
Leaders often fear trying new things because deep down they wonder: “What if this blows up?” And the fear factor associated with attempting new ways to lead, organize, and share the ministry load keeps their organization bottled up. Staying experimental releases you and your team to try new things, and if those new things don’t work . . . oh well. We learn from them, dust ourselves off, and move on.
3. Stay Humble
The day a leader discovers he/she can’t do it all by themselves is a historic day in their leadership life. The day they stop trying to do it all by themselves is even more historic. It takes genuine humility to let go. To admit you can’t do by yourself the work God’s given you to do. It’s humbling to admit that in order to fulfill your leadership calling, you’ll have to learn how to get work done through others.
In my work, I occasionally encounter leaders of very large churches who lead like they’re planting a new work. Their hands are in everything. They struggle to let go, to trust their team to deliver. They operates as though the whole thing depends on them. I fear for their health and longevity.
If every decision has to come through you, you’re limiting the church’s ability (and your team’s ability) to grow. When it dawns on you that your primary role as a leader is to equip people to share the work (and this equipping role grows as the church grows), you loosen the bottleneck in the organization you lead. So stay humble.
If the business or the church you lead has stagnated, resist the temptation to blame others. First, take a reflective look in the mirror. Is your leadership skill growing? Is your approach adapting? Are you learning new and better ways to lead? Are you trying new things? Are you allowing others to share both the workload and the applause?
If you’re struggling to answer these questions on your own, find a mentor or a coach who can help you explore them more deeply.
Teach-ability. Experimentation. Humility. These behaviors help a leader grow and adapt. And they increase the chances of an organization accomplishing its mission.
It’s time to uncork the leadership bottleneck.
I’m rooting and praying for you!