November 14, 2016—Leadership is lonely, they say. That is true to a real extent. Few understand the weight of responsibility that comes with leadership, or the shifts in relationship that can bring isolation and distance. But to say leadership is a lonely position does not mean one can do it alone. Even the most differentiated leaders need to be meaningfully connected to others in the work system, and, to a personal support system. Ask most leaders for the secret of their success and they’ll likely tell you two things: “I surround myself with the best people,” and “I have invested in a long-term peer support system.”
When one is in a position of leadership one’s network of relationships both expands and narrows. You’ll be connected to a wider number and variety of people in the organization to some extent and in several capacities. At the same time you’ll narrow the scope of your direct charges, your “inner circle” of second-chair leaders and associate staff. In other words, you need to be present to all but accessible to only a few. In the mix of those networks there are five people every leader needs to help her or him be more effective.
You may discover these five people within your organization as work colleagues. Others may exist outside of the job environment. Regardless, they each will contribute something important to your success as a leader.
1. The Encourager. Whether friend, second chair, spouse, deacon, or Mom, this is the person in your life, sometimes the ONE person, who says “You can do this.” And because he or she genuinely believes it, you’ll believe it too. This may also be the person that helps you give yourself permission for taking a day off, or allowing yourself a “mental health day.” Sometimes, this is merely the person who, regardless of circumstance, just likes you, no matter what.
2. The Antagonist. While irksome, every leader needs an antagonist. Iron sharpens iron, and leaders may grow dull without the challenge antagonists provide. Antagonistic people may be reactive, but they are not necessarily unintelligent. If you can listen to their arguments and perspectives past the grating annoyance, they can provide correctives to your blind spots. Believe it or not, antagonists can be a resource to a leader, as long as they don’t tip over into sabotage.
3. The Skeptic. Most leaders are, by necessity and character, optimists. They likely would not have taken the job if they didn’t believe in possibilities, potential, and ultimate positive outcomes. This is what helps leadership “sell” the vision that gathers others around a shared value and the tasks that make things happen. But an overly-optimistic leader with Pollyanna rose-tinted glasses does not serve an organization well. Skeptics can help you curb your enthusiasm in those times when operating out of realism is a necessity. You don’t have to buy into a skeptic’s perspective, but he or she can provide a balance to our tendencies for wishful thinking, self-referencing, and denial.
4. The Lieutenant. God bless this type! Most leaders would be lost without them, and most organizations would fail to make progress without their energy, skills, and single-minded drive. The Lieutenant in the organization is the one who delivers on the dreams. She’s the one who makes it happen. He or she is your “Number One.” Give them a vision and they’ll find the ways to make it a reality. Most of the time, the best thing a leader can do is get out of their way and let them do what needs to be done in the way THEY think best.
5. The Sage. The best leaders tend to be smart, but none are omniscient. In fact, those who seek to be (“know-it-alls”) very quickly cease to be effective as leaders. In leadership, a little bit of humility goes a long way. Yes, your staff and your constituents want, perhaps need, to believe you are smart and know what you are doing. But, the reality is that the challenges of leadership are more about knowing how to function than knowing answers. Effective leaders know there’s a difference between expertise and wisdom. This is the value of the mentor, consultant, or advisor in the life of a leader. The Sage helps the leader with three critical practices: perspective, discernment, and self-understanding.
Do you have these five people in your life? Where are they in your support networks–at the job or outside of work? Which do you need to cultivate to complete this company of the five people you need as a leader?
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.