Wise Leaders Adjust Their Leadership Role to the People They Lead

I remember hearing sports commentators debate the rightness and fairness of Phil Jackson’s admission that he led each of his players differently—that he treated Michael Jordan differently from another player on the team. Some cried foul, insisting that a coach is responsible to ensure equity, and in doing so, each player must be treated the same way. Others insisted that Phil Jackson was displaying wise leadership.

It is not fair for a leader to lead everyone the same way because every person on the team is different and needs different leadership. To lead every person the same way is to discount each person’s development, each person’s experience, and each person’s level of commitment. It would be unfair to lead someone who is highly capable and fully committed in the same manner as someone who is less developed or is negative.

Ken Blanchard is known for his model of “situational leadership.” He challenges leaders to adjust their leadership to the development of the people they lead. And the adjustment should be for different aspects of the person’s role—meaning, because I display different levels of competency for different aspects of my job, I need varying levels of leadership.

  • Someone who displays low competence and high commitment needs “directing” leadership.
  • Someone who displays low competence and low commitment needs “coaching” leadership.
  • Someone who displays high competence and varying commitment needs “supporting” leadership.
  • Someone who displays high competence and high commitment needs “delegating” leadership.

It is not fair to neglect someone who needs directing by delegating to them. And it is not fair to direct someone who is able to handle wise delegation. It is not fair to lead everyone the same.

I find Blanchard’s model counter-cultural to how many people view leadership. I imagine executives at companies reading his thoughts and thinking, “So leadership is not about me asking all the people I lead to adjust to me? I am to adjust to them? I am to adjust my leadership role to the people I lead?”

Wise leaders adjust their leadership to the people they lead. In other words, wise leaders are servants.

As Christians, we have been served by our Savior-King, who came not to be served but to serve, who took off His kingly garments and took on the nature of a servant so He could suffer and die to win our hearts to Himself. Serving others is not distinctly Christian, but Jesus serving us is. And because He has served us, we are now able to follow His example and serve those we lead by adjusting our leadership to them.

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
— Debra
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
— Laurie
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)

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