Leadership is messy.
You don’t have to have a degree in leadership or work a long time with people to figure that out.
This isn’t just within the Church, but pretty much everywhere. Ask anyone who is leading other people if they think it’s easy and neat, and they’ll tell you that it’s not.
People are messy. Leaders are messy.
Ask a leader of a company and they’ll tell you about the problems they have getting along with and leading their executive team. Ask a manager and they’ll tell you about the issues they have getting people to show up and do their best work.
It’s messy, but it isn’t meaningless.
It does have a point. Leadership does pay off. People that lead well and produce other great leaders that produce leaders see their company, organization, or nonprofit succeed. They lead from a place of extra and not lack. Things aren’t perfect, but the people that lead well get to the payoff.
Leadership is ultimately about freehand painting, not painting by the numbers.
In other words, if we try to lead other people by helping them paint by the numbers, we’ll go nuts and we’ll always be let down. If we try to fit them into a perfect bubble and ask them to do things exactly how we’d like them done and ask them to adopt the practices we think are best, we’ll be left frustrated and scratching our heads.
While we certainly have to give them the canvas to paint on and show them the picture we want to be painted, we have to let them freehand the painting. We have to let them color outside the lines at times. We have to let them escape the perfect box we try to place them in. We have to be willing to stick up for them when they paint a stroke that goes against the grain. We have to be willing to develop them through the bad paint choices and the nervous jitters.
When we anticipate people painting outside the lines and allow them to blur the lines, it changes our expectations and our reaction to what happens when those expectations go unmet. Instead of being disappointed because they didn’t do it our way or the ideal way, we’ll celebrate the picture that they drew… the project they finished, the people they impacted.
When we allow others to freehand the leadership position they have, we also have the pleasure of watching them grow and exceed expectations.
If we manage people, they may meet our expectations, but they’ll rarely exceed them.
So, do you feel like things are out of the box? Like you’re spending too much time trying to keep the people you lead inside the lines? Maybe it’s time to let them paint and see what happens.
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.