7 Times Leadership Is At Its Best: A Delicate Tension

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Every great leader must learn the art and science of leadership. Here's how to be more effective while empowering your team.

In my opinion, there are times when my leadership is better than others. I call them seasons. Seasons come and seasons go. Obviously, I would love for all of our seasons to be wonderful, but I have learned this isn’t realistic.

What I have observed is when leadership is at its best, there is a delicate tension.

Let me share a few examples to describe what I mean.

Here are 7 times leadership is at its best when:

People follow willingly, not under coercion or force.

You aren’t leading unless people are following. We can find examples of people who did exactly what someone told them – yet, it wasn’t done willingly. The best leadership has willing participants – personally energized towards the vision.

People can keep up but are still being stretched.

There is nothing worse than a leader who is too far ahead of the people he or she is trying to lead. Have you ever tried to follow someone in a car? Some people are good at leading you – some aren’t. But, the best leadership is always taking you somewhere you haven’t been before – stretching you towards something new. It’s a delicate tension between two extremes.

People feel valued while being challenged to continually improve.

This is a tough one for me. I’m wired for improvement. I’m a development guy. I’m seldom completely satisfied – especially with my own efforts. So, I want to continually challenge people to get better – for their good no the good of the team. But, you can only push so much. Ephesians 6 gives this warning to fathers of children. As leaders we can sometimes push too hard – and frustrate the people we are trying to lead.

People are assigned to their specific passion but readily do what needs to be done.

I learned this in church planting. We needed people just to do what needed to be done. We didn’t have enough people to “specialize”. And, yet we also learned people are less likely to burnout and more likely to be passionate for their work if the work fits within who they are and how they are uniquely wired.

People have a clearly defined vision but have freedom to invent and dream along the way. 

This one is especially true for creative people. They need clear boundaries – clear instructions – they need to know what a win looks like. But they also need freedom within those boundaries to create – to explore – to dream – and to fail.

People have real responsibility and authority but don’t feel abandoned.

Delegation is a key to good leadership, but healthy delegation does not dump and run. There are adequate resources, feedback and accountability. People feel free to do their work without someone looking over their shoulders, but they know help is always nearby if needed.

People take time to rest and celebrate but aren’t allowed to sit still for long.

Sitting leads to complacency, boredom and eventually stagnation. And speaking candidly, it drives me crazy. We can’t sit still for long when there is so much which needs to be done. But the tension is, we need to celebrate. And, we definitely need to rest. The celebration and rest – done well – should fuel the other. As leaders, we must protect both extremes.

Do you see the tension? It’s real. And if you’re a leader, you live these tensions every day. Praying with you!

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