A few weeks ago, my wife and son and I were waiting in a doctor’s office. Being a pediatric office, the staff obviously knew the struggle to keep a little toddler occupied while they waited to see the doctor and had placed a foosball table in the waiting room. Having only seen a foosball table a couple of times in his life, my son asked to see what it was. Upon walking up to the table, I began to explain to my little guy how the game worked. After explaining that it was a little like soccer, he yelled out, “How cool!”

Like my son, who doesn’t like foosball?

The classic game with soccer like players all lined up in opposition to each other has been a favorite game for people for as long as any of us can remember.

In case you’ve never seen a foosball table, it’s basically rods that go through the width of the table with plastic men that can move back and forth and spin around. The directions they can’t go? They can’t go backward or forwards. They can’t move around the table. The object of the game, like that of soccer, is to score the ball into the opponent’s goal using these men that are tied together by a metal pole that runs through them and through the table.

In foosball, the men have a goal, but very little freedom to accomplish that goal.

Sure, they can spin and go back and forth, but they can’t move anywhere else on the table.

Foosball leadership isn’t good leadership.

It’s really difficult for leaders to give the people they lead a goal but give them no freedom to accomplish it. It’s difficult for the organization to develop leaders when all they can do are menial tasks outlined by the powers that be.

Think about it…

We can train monkeys to do repeatable tasks. We can train birds and dogs to do tasks that don’t require problem-solving or reasoning. We simply teach them to repeat the task in the same matter over and over again.

We train dogs and birds, but we don’t want to train people. At least real leaders don’t.

Do we want something accomplished? Of course.
Do we want something done well and in line with the vision? Of course.

We don’t, though, want to develop people who get stuff done, we want to develop people who lead to get the right stuff done.

Your organization will grow only to the size of the people that are in place to lead it.

The thing about foosball leadership? There are a limited amount of players in the game. Once all the spots are full, it’s just meaningless watching.

Develop the people around you. Give them real responsibility, resources, and options. Give them the freedom to get to the goal in a way that makes sense to them.


Jonathan Pearson is the Connections Pastor at SpringWell Church in Taylors, S.C. Jonathan is the co-host of the Next Up Podcast and author of Next Up: 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make (June 2014) and the upcoming book Be the Switch. He is married to Melissa and has a son named Riley. They live in Greenville, S.C. Find Jonathan online at JonathanPearson.net.