Just about everyone in the small group or Sunday School class is capable of teaching, but no one will step into the rotation.
Someone’s main responsibility is to contact three or four people on his serving team once a month—and you even remind him—but he regularly makes excuses of why he didn’t get the job done.
The same person has been serving in the ministry for a decade and knows it more intimately than anyone else, but he won’t step up and take the lead.
People who follow well can also excel at avoiding leadership. It’s a frustrating experience when you’re leading them. You see their potential. You know their strengths. You’ve coached them through the growth process. The time seems right—or past due—to develop stronger leadership muscles, yet you’re met with their reluctance to step into a leadership role. Why?
- Leading in someone’s footsteps can be intimidating. We often play the comparison game. When we’ve followed someone long enough to develop respect, we can’t imagine filling his shoes. To lead in the capacity of someone we admire is daunting. Instead of considering stepping into a role or responsibility, we feel as if we’re becoming the person in the role. Since we cannot actually become another person, we feel insufficient.
Remedy: Acknowledge possible feelings of inadequacy. Just because you say someone doesn’t have to measure up to the previous leader’s reputation doesn’t mean he will believe you and respond in a new way. Invite the person to test the waters with a time of transition, including personal coaching. Invest in the person’s development with encouragement and constructive feedback. Remind him the preceding leader didn’t develop his abilities and style overnight. As God pours confidence into the person, he’ll be more likely to step out of his comfort zone and trust God will provide, even when provision—and leadership—looks different than it did for the preceding leader.
- Leadership development takes clear communication and consistent evaluation. Everyone you’re developing as a leader does not realize he’s in a leadership development plan. He’s simply serving, because someone asked him to serve, and he’s fulfilling his commitment. He might not realize how this commitment is preparing him for another commitment and another. One responsibility of a leader is to guide the growth process. While some people will intuitively take the lead, others will simply do what they’re told. They’re great followers, but they don’t instinctively look around and realize what needs to be done. It’s up to leaders in their lives to set examples of healthy leadership.
Remedy: Roles and responsibilities need to be clearly communicated, so expectations are clear. Babysitting isn’t necessary—and can be detrimental—but consistent evaluation and constructive feedback is essential. Without it, people will not know how they’re doing and how they can grow. When someone is walking alongside them, they’re more likely to see future possibilities and replace apprehension with anticipation.
- Advancement isn’t always the best direction. Growth is. We don’t always need to move up in order to grow. We should never use an excuse of “I’m growing in depth” to avoid moving where God wants us to move, but let’s not assume a better title and more responsibility is always the best fit. If we’re stepping out of our areas of giftedness, we need to make certain where we’re going is better than staying where we are. Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zones yet not necessarily up the rung of the proverbial ladder. We might simply need to transfer to a similar rung on a different ladder, where our gifts can be used and our comfort levels stretched. Just because a leadership position includes more recognition, responsibility, opportunities, and compensation doesn’t mean it’s the best choice.
Remedy: Encourage each person to discover his or her gifts and watch closely for God’s leading into areas where strengths will be maximized. Avoid placing people in open positions for the sake of filling a space. Trust God’s timing and provision. Sometimes it’s better to have a gap than a mismatched person in a role.
Trying to lead followers who are unwilling to lead can be frustrating, but leaders can work with them to take manageable steps through leadership development. Each and every one of us needs to consistently grow. Sadly, existing leaders can avoid growth, too, often by refusing to follow. Leaders who don’t follow well are detrimental to those who are following. Only by following well will leaders lead well.
Consider how Jesus followed. His Father’s way took precedence over comfort or convenience. Consider how the apostles followed. When they did as Jesus taught them, their opportunities and impact on others were powerful and extensive. When we follow in obedient faith, we lead in faithful humility. When we follow well, those who follow us lead well.