The most influential contributor to the growth of an organization is the growth of its leader.
When a leader stops growing, he/she limits the potential of the entity they lead. They become a bottleneck. 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 led 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? Let me suggest three behaviors:
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 can help you uncork the bottleneck. If we succeed at teach-ability, our church has a much better chance of reaching its full potential.
At my home church, our lead pastor often said, “Everything is an experiment.” The experimental mindset 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 workload 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 . . . “It was an experiment.” We learn from them, dust ourselves off, and move on.
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 operate 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 organization’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 organization grows), you loosen the bottleneck. So work hard at staying 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.
Rooting and praying for you,