Leading From the Middle – Part I

I recently had the opportunity to appear on The Pastor’s Life video blog to discuss the various nuances of leading from the second chair. I quickly realized that I had a lot to say about this subject based on my current position in a local church as well as 21 years in the military where everyone is second chair to someone.

There are many dynamics at work for a person leading from the middle. Direction, leadership style, desires, and personality come down from the top leader, while personnel issues, problems, tensions, questions, and various other factors float up toward the top leader. In the middle is a leader who is attempting to lead, manage, motivate, inspire, and stabilize from both directions. How does a leader in this position learn to lead with confidence and joy rather than hesitation and frustration? To answer that question, I have broken my comments into three parts relative to the relationship between the first and second leader.

Think Synergy: two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable.

Part I: Shared elements that are necessary

1. Shared Vision – It is vitally important that the first and second leaders share the vision for the church or organization. The leadership provided by these two individuals must point in the same direction. I joined with my Lead Pastor because his heart for ministry and overall vision resonated with me in a profound way. Over the years, we took what was at the core of our hearts and shaped the vision into what it is today. If the person leading from the middle does not own the vision from his or her heart, chances are that person is in the wrong position.

2. Shared Values – It is near impossible for two people to share the exact same values because we all come from different life experiences and backgrounds. However, it is possible and necessary to identify those values that are shared among you. The bottom line here is that values inform and shape a leader’s decision-making. Values steer the ship in the direction that it should go. If leaders are making decisions from different sets of values, then more than likely the ship is being steered in two different directions. We spent months hammering out our shared values and identifying those things that would genuinely guide us as we endeavor to accomplish the vision set before us.

3. Shared Strategy – Strategy is one of those things that is going to morph and evolve until you find what works. At times, different leaders are going to feel more strongly about a particular strategy than others. If there are fundamental differences in ministry philosophy and strategy then forward movement is going to be frustrated. In church world there are various models of discipleship from programs to Sunday school to small groups to a buffet model that includes all of the above. The key point for us in finding what works has been in sharing together in the development of our strategy along the way.

4. Mutual Trust – The most important element that can exist between the first and second leader is trust. Trust is developed over time. If the first and second leaders do not develop a mutual trust for one another, then neither of them will be able to lead effectively. Lack of trust among these two individuals will stall progress and adversely effect the morale of the organization. We have developed a mutual trust because we keep truth in the open. We have given each other permission to communicate openly and share our hearts with one another. The result has been a mutual respect and trust that empowers each of us to lead from our respective seats.

There are other aspects of leadership that must co-exist between the first and second leader; however, I’ve found that these four are essential to setting you on a path of leading with confidence and joy along your day-to-day journey.

Keep REACHING FORWARD to God’s best for  your church or organization. Together we can make a difference and impact our world in positive ways.

Comments welcome.


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