Diagnosing Maverick Leaders

From the Church Champions Update:

    A few weeks ago Leadership Network convened a forum composed of an eclectic bunch of various leaders around the topic of Leadership Development. I shared two weeks ago some of the insights from some parts of that forum.

   In forums like this we try and break the groups down to various discussion groups based on passion and interests. This time we had three groups. Group one consisted of younger leaders and those who are most passionate about creating Leadership Development systems to serve younger leaders. Group two consisted of Senior Pastors and Parachurch leaders who seek to serve those leaders. Group three consisted of church staff team members and those who are passionate about serving those leaders.

   The following discussion took place in group two. It was shared as one of their insights in our wrap up session. Greg Bourgond, an Update subscriber, and leader at Bethel Seminary in Minnesota spoke to it during our wrap session. I thought it was great. I don't know if they are Greg's thoughts or the thoughts of the group but for now, let's thank Greg for capturing them.

   There are often times that emerging, budding leaders exhibit characteristics that make more mature leaders write them off. Sometimes we are looking for emerging leaders that will conform to our molds and to get along with other leaders already in the system. Mavericks rarely fit this mold. Greg suggests that some of these characteristics, though they drive us nuts as leaders, are rather signs of the emergence of leadership in a person. Here are several:

   1. They keep butting their head against the same wall or problem. You know the old saying, "What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over again and expecting different results." To someone observing an emerging leader it sure looks like they are backtracking over the same problem again and again.

   Closer observation may show that they are actually hitting the wall at a slightly different angle each time, learning from each obstacle and adjusting their approach. The key is they don't give up and they learn with each failure. The difference between this type of emerging leader and a lesser one? The lesser one always approaches the obstacle the exact same way and has not learned any lessons. They are more apt to give up after a few tries.

   2. They never do exactly what you tell them to do. I think my life would be a lot easier if people would do what I tell them to do. It sure would be a lot easier on me. But emerging leaders won't do that. They keep asking more questions or even worse, suggesting ways it could be done better. They have more questions than you have answers. Man, that's irritating. Don't you just hate that?

   This is our typical response. Part of the role of leader, as leadership developer/mentor is to suggest a direction and then work with the emerging leader on the approaches. Yes, its irritating and time consuming but helps grow a leader. Often the mistake of the mature leader is to interpret the attitudes and questions as disrespect and a critical spirit, rather than using these opportunities to learn themselves about other ways to approach a problem.

   3. They always want more responsibility before they are ready for it. As the mature leader you are always queasy about this. You want the person to advance as a leader but you also have some doubts because you are not sure they are ready. I have given several leadership development workshops over the years and as I ask leaders about their peak leadership experiences, one of the common threads is "I was way over my head at the beginning."

   Part of the development process is placing people in situations that are a true stretch. As leadership developers/mentors we don't want to put people in places where they will fail. But if failure is not an option, they will not learn as fast as they can. Failure should be handled as a developmental iteration on the process to becoming a better leader. It is amazing as one looks at current Silicon Valley start up companies, most of the founders seem to have at least one failed company in their background. It is a sign that they are always stretching themselves.

   4. People defer to them, even if they haven't been designated as the leader. They have been placed in a group or team to carry out a task. Someone else has been designated as leader, but as the project progresses, the group looks to this emerging leader for their opinion.

   It is what we call at Leadership Network, the EF Hutton effect. This can be very hard on the designated leader, but the group doesn't seem to mind unless there is a strong clash between the two. Then the group is torn. A part of understanding this situation is to understand the shift from leadership as position to leadership as influence and relation of meaning making in the group. More on that in future updates.

   5. Finally, group two said that these emerging leaders do more than they are asked to do. Sometimes to the point of overdoing it. Although this can be a sign to senior leader that time and energy was being wasted, it is also a sign that the emerging leader is ready for more responsibility. The emerging leader is looking not to impress, but rather to do the task or responsibility to their high standards. Sometimes those standards are higher than what we have in our minds if we were doing the project.

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• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on May 31, 2001