The Subtle Drift
by Leadership Professor, Mike Ayers
Leadership carries with it many potential diversions- possibly the subtlest of which is the drift away from leadership itself. It may also be the most damaging. That is to say, leaders must commit themselves to a specific set of beliefs and behaviors and not waver from them due to busyness, pressure or stress. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves doing a lot of things as leaders… except leading. True leadership concerns itself with a whole different set of practices than that of management, or that of merely doing tasks.
In the beginning days of an organization, or at the beginning of a new leadership position, vision and purpose is predominant in the heart of a leader. Leaders are excited and they seek to actually lead the organization or their group. Their concerns at this time are the achievement of vision, the fidelity of purpose, effectiveness, and staying committed to the correct direction of the organization in order to insure success. Yet, as organizations grow and leaders become busy, bureaucratic and administrative needs become prevalent. “Putting out fires” captures the leader’s time and attention. This is natural and even somewhat necessary to sustain growth. Program and bureaucratic needs have to be address… but by whom? Certainly, leadership should not be sacrificed in the process.
Due to management needs, organizational crises, personal problem-solving and bureaucratic elements- all of which become urgent- leaders now begin to manage their organization and not lead. This is a costly mistake. Notice in the list below the differences between management and leadership:
- Are we doing things right?
- Resolving Conflict
- Positions of People
- Stability and Security
- Are we doing the right things?
- Building Community
- Empowerment of People
- Change and Growth
As you can see, there is both a need for good managers and good leaders in all organizations. However, while an organization could suffer by possessing only leaders (i.e., they have a great vision but the inability to implement properly), the greater tragedy is when organizations lack good leadership. In fact, I believe that most organizations are over-managed and under-led. These organizations might survive for a while, but they experience a slow death as they lose vision, purpose, and the inability to change. They become in essence “the most well-managed ship at the bottom of the sea”.
Additionally, leaders who fall prey to this subtle drift will eventually lose their way, become burned-out and frustrated, and wonder why the organization has no life or growth. They are leaders who are not leading… and this is frustrating and ineffective.
Question- are you leading your organization, or simply managing it? The call is to regain your leadership and recommit yourself to the key beliefs and behaviors necessary to lead people well. Spend some time away. Ponder the vision that once compelled you. Grab it again and let it move you to be a whole different kind of leader—or rather to return to the leader you once were.
Even with the managerial demands that your group, church or organization faces, leadership is truly what your organization requires most from you, and what your people need.