I ended yesterday’s post with a question: what’s a leader for? It’s more of a thought-question, really, as I think that leaders are important, vital. At the same time, how things play out when leaders aren’t around can be quite telling.
Four years ago, when I started in on what has become a much longer-than-expected vocational stretch, I thought it best to be a steward and not a change-agent. Since it was temporary, we would work to hold things together, keep things moving, as we waited for the position to be filled. And for four years we’ve done that. As I considered what to do about an obvious “year five,” I came to some conclusions. First, that year five would also be my last year. And second, that we needed to try to take some of what we think we had been learning and and put it into practice. Things continue on when even in the absence of leaders. The work is potentially harder because “lay people” usually have other tasks to work on. And even if change is possible in such circumstances, such circumstances make change even slower.
Or consider a church staff that spends more than a year in that interim period between pastors. You’ve got staff divvying things up. You’ll also got deacons and other church leaders stepping in. And then the interim steps in for things, too (at different intervals and levels of involvement). It’s likely unsustainable and unhealthy in the long run. But it’s also a real learning experience for everyone. (And likely why congregations stand in applause when a new pastor has been found).
So let’s say that you are an organization that has a strong mid-level bench, that steps up to the plate and learns and adapts well. And the leader of the group, whatever it is, moves on. Do you (a) hire someone who helps keep the machine running smoothly even if it means a little less obvious “leading” from the front or (b) do you hire someone to “take it to the next level” even if that means working at odds with those who had held things together in the interim?
It’s probably a false distinction, not likely to be such an “either-or.” But that’s why it’s a thought experiment. I totally understand the impulse for good, up front leadership. But I also understand the realities of wisdom and competence on multiple levels. It definitely shapes the kind of questions to ask of those looking to step in.