No one leads all of the time. Throughout the course of a day, nearly everyone has moments of leading and moments of following. In this column, I identity what separates leaders from followers by identifying three items available only to leaders.
First of all, leaders have a different perspective than followers. Leaders are the ones with the “big picture” perspective. While no leader ever obtains all of the pieces, leaders usually have more puzzle pieces than any one follower at any point in time. Both insiders and outsiders tell leaders information told to no one else. Leaders also receive parallel information from colleagues in other fields as well as organizational information from people in positions close to the organizational center.
Ronald Heifitz, in his book Leadership Without Easy Answers, and in greater detail in Leadership on the Line, describes a “balcony perspective,” using a small number of people watching a large dance from a raised balcony as a metaphor for viewing a big picture from afar rather than from within the fray.
While some leaders have difficulty forcing themselves onto the balcony, the balcony perspective is more readily available to leaders than followers by virtue of the information at their disposal.
The most difficult, but rewarding, view is a balcony perspective in which the leader views himself or herself interacting with others in the organization. While the leader cannot be in two places at one time, this scenario requires the leader to see two perspectives at one time.
Second, leaders possess a voice not possessed by followers. Leaders have access to every member of the group.
If any member of the group consumes too much air time or acts disrespectfully of others, the leader may request a meeting with that individual to discuss the matter. Leaders can surface the silent voice, squelch the obnoxious presence, and sound the alarm amidst the runaway train.
Leaders also have the voice of referee power. The most powerful person on a court or a field is the referee. While such power is available to influence the outcome (which leaders may use inappropriately), the greater power of the referee is to set the stage for the best possible outcome to occur, one that will be accepted by all participants and all spectators.
Finally, leaders, rather than followers, are the ones who prioritize. Leaders set the agenda, allot the clock to particular items, suggest an order for discussion, assign people to work on tasks and ad hoc assignments, and defer items to subsequent meetings. Leaders decide whether to call for brainstorming or evaluation, visualizing or speculation, decision-making or data gathering, embracing or abandoning. Leaders not only set the tone, they call for brass or woodwinds, and pace the percussion. Leaders should not underestimate the power of prioritizing.
Jeff Woods is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Ohio.
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Better Than Success: 8 Principles of Faithful Leadership
We’ve Never Done It Like This Before: 10 Creative Approaches to the Same Old Church Tasks
User Friendly Evaluation: Improving the Work of Pastors, Programs and Laity