It’s been my experience that there are three kinds of primary leaders. When I say primary leader, I mean the person in charge, giving direction to a team or group of individuals. Most people seem to fall somewhere in between these three types of leaders.
Set it, and forget it
The “Set it and forget it” leader is someone who typically likes to set things into motion and walk away. This could be through creating a team that will carry on the work or even someone who just wants to be hands-off ad only looped in when absolutely necessary.
One challenge is that it’s easy to focus on the “forget” part. Sometimes, things actually run amuck when you “set it and forget it.” Maybe the team needs support but doesn’t know how to ask, or perhaps the individual doesn’t have enough training or confidence to make an independent decision and needs some help. When you get stuck in the “forget” mode, it’s easy to think everything is going fine, but in reality, things could be burning to the ground, and you have no clue.
If this is your leadership style, my encouragement is to set a time and place where you consistently check in and see how things are doing. You should also create a communication line that actually gets to you if you’re needed. You can still “set it,” but instead of forgetting it, you “think of it from time to time.”
The Central Cog
The “central cog” leader is someone who plays a primary role within a team or organization. They make the system turn, and without them, nothing would happen. Think of a watch cog that moves the gears along. Without that central cog spinning, everything comes to a stop. This model of leadership is common in church ministry and start-up organizations.
One of the challenges is the amount of responsibility and effort one person needs to have within the team or organization. The first problem is that so much pressure can actually be bad for an individual, which is often the cause of burnout. The second problem is outside of anyone’s control; the problem is life. What happens if your hurt, slick, or dead? What if there is an emergency with your kids and you can’t come to work. What if you’re caught in a snowstorm and can’t get to your office for youth (this happened to me).
If this is your leadership style, you need to decentralize some of your roles and responsibilities. Sometimes this is called “passing the keys,” but I call it the Aaron Bartell rule. After getting stuck in the snowstorm, I asked Aaron Bartell to have a set of keys to my church. I also made sure he knew our protocols super well, and I gave him a chance to publicly lead so that everyone would be comfortable with his leadership. Over time no one person was the central cog anymore; instead, a team of four emerged, and we even started to pass responsibilities on to a new generation of leaders.
The Maintenance Man
The “maintenance man” is exactly what it sounds like. They exist outside of the team, organization or program and are responsible for making sure things run smooth. They swap out what’s broken, support what needs to be fixed, and are consistently looking for upgrades to improve things. But they are not central to the team, organization or program. The maintenance man can change from time to time, but the machine stays consistent.
One of the challenges in this kind of leadership is that people can become tools to be used, swapped, and changed as needed. This can be a good thing in some ways, but it can swing to the negative really easily. It can be easy to lose sight of relationships and why people matter because the program’s productivity is what’s most important.
In this leadership style, you need to double down on your relationship with your people. To know what is best needed, you need to know who your people are, what makes them tick and how to best connect them to find success. This takes time and can be very rewarding. Think of it like a good mechanic and a car, they can often hear the problem and know the solution without even lifting the hood, but they can also take it all apart and put it back together if they need to. This leadership style can lead to long-term health and success if you don’t lose sight of people.
A Bit of Everything
If we are honest at times, we are probably a bit of all of these things. I have areas of my job that I’ve left to my team to do. I’m helping drive key aspects of other programs while trying to maintain my teams and add others to their success.
Most people have a bend within them, but the key is not to slip into the problem areas. You can’t just say, “I didn’t know what they were doing,” and you can’t drive every conversation. If your team feels like pawns on a chessboard and not partners on the team, then soon your not going to have a team. Each leadership style has its pitfalls but knowing what they are and what trips you up personally is half the battle.
Take some time this week to consider the following three questions.
- what kind of leader are you? ‘
- Where do you get tripped up the most?
- How can you function in the strength of your leadership style better?