Leading From the Middle – Part III

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. You can find Part I and II here. Today we look at Part III which discusses a couple of the major tensions that the leader in middle faces.

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

Part III: Tensions to Manage

1. The tension of progression. Most ambitious leaders are always looking to their next level. I’m sure many church leaders in my position have asked the question that I have asked myself time and again: Should I move on to be a Lead Pastor? I have found that this question is better treated as a tension to manage rather than a problem to solve by forcing the decision. If a leader is constantly battling with this decision inside of himself, he will eventually become discontented and at the very least lose focus. Forcing this decision too early could be a detriment for both the organization and the leaders. I’ve found that the best way to look at this is not to ask “should I move on to be a lead pastor”, but rather, “what is God doing right now – in me as well as in the big picture of the organization.” We have to remember that we are only one part in the equation of what God is doing through us. Keeping the big picture in mind while remaining Kingdom focused is how I have learned to manage this tension best. When the time comes to move it will be clear to everyone involved.

2. Differences in leadership style. One of the tensions that leaders at all levels deal with is style of leadership. Some are more directive, some are more participative, some are very involved while others are mostly hands-off. I learned a long time ago that it’s best as a leader to focus on his or her own leadership style within his or her purview. The key for this tension is to be yourself and focus on your own strengths. I believe an organization can be much more effective when there is an environment where the leaders can lead from their own strengths and style. The most important factor that enables this type of environment is trust that is built on shared values and a common vision. We can embrace differences in leadership style when there is mutual trust that we are all moving in the right direction.

Leading from the second seat is not always easy, but it is rewarding given the right attitude and ability to manage the tensions that exist. Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in your life and leadership! Embrace the season that you’re in and enjoy the journey along the way!

Comments welcome.


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