You could be holding back potential leaders and not even know it.
You’ve heard the leadership gurus, authors, blogs, and podcasts. All of them are pushing for leaders to create other leaders. It’s not just about leading; it’s about helping others on your team to become leaders themselves. If your leadership doesn’t go beyond yourself, you’re not really leading.
You’re convicted. You agree. And now, you set out to do just that: create leaders on your team.
And so you have your team listen to those same podcasts and read the books and blogs. You challenge them to be leaders themselves. And everyone feels great about that because everyone wants to be a leader.
But then a few weeks pass, and everyone settles back into whatever de-facto mode of operation they did before the leadership pep rally.
Why is this?
I think it has a lot to do with the difference between giving your people permission to lead vs. giving your people a commission to lead.
Think of it this way: when a new police officer is commissioned, they are given things like a badge, a gun, a squad car, and a partner. They are given neighborhood beats and jurisdictions, briefings about crime statistics, and maybe a strategic focus with some metrics to serve as goals.
In other words: they’re given more than just a ceremony at which someone inspires them and tells them to “go police.” They are commissioned.
Without commissioning, all the permission in the world simply does not matter.
If all you do as a leader is give people permission to lead, you’ll wind up with a bunch of people on your team who feel like they are being set up to fail as leaders.
Because you will have given them the burden of leadership without anything else they need from you to carry it out.
Let’s do a deeper examination of the difference between giving people permission to lead and commissioning your people to lead.
INSPIRE VS. EQUIP
When you permit leaders to lead, you often resort to inspiring them – and then frustrated, you wonder why they don’t lead. After all, you gave a really good motivational speech. You grumble to yourself privately: how much more motivation do they really need?
But when you commission leaders, you not only inspire them; you equip them.
- You give them the tools they need to lead successfully.
- You make sure they have a budget and the authority to spend it.
- You grant them decision-making rights, and publicly stand behind the decisions they make.
- You give them a platform, ensure they have support from the rest of the team, and give them necessary training and coaching and feedback.
- You direct those who come to you about them back to them.
In short: cut back on the pre-game speeches. Good leaders are already pretty self-motivated. Instead, make sure they have everything they need to get the job done. And get out of their way.
ALLOW VS. EXPECT
Whoa, you might be thinking.
The last thing I’m gonna give them is a bunch of money and the freedom to spend it however they want.
And what if they make a bad decision?
It’s questions like these that lead us to another difference between permission and commission: allowing vs. expecting.
Permitting is synonymous with allowing or tolerating. If all you do is permit your team to lead, then you’re keeping them on a pretty short leash, practically speaking. Without it being said, they know it, and you know it.
Why do we so often settle for allowing, but no further?
Well, for a few reasons.
- We settle for allowing when we’re not fully aligned (but we don’t tell them that).
- Or when we’re worried about the cost/benefit (but we don’t coach them on how to see that for themselves).
- We simply leave a lot unsaid (because we don’t trust them enough to lead on their own).
We might be ok with their first attempt at trying to lead, but when it doesn’t seem to be working out, or when they encounter some resistance, we’ll pull on that short leash of permission and take back our allowance from those we “permitted” to lead.
We expected them to fall short, and lo and behold, they did.
But when you commission someone on your team, you don’t just permit them to lead; you expect them to lead.
You don’t withhold anything from them.
- You get everything on the table so that there are no surprises (because you want them to be successful apart from you).
- You let your team make mistakes and coach them privately through the mistakes (because that’s how you learned to lead).
- And when they encounter resistance, you watch how they deal with it, challenge them to process it, and expect them to move through it (because that’s part of leadership).
Leaders who commission other leaders expect them to lead and don’t settle for anything less.
DELEGATE VS. FOLLOW-UP
Leaders who permit others to lead often pride themselves in how many tasks they delegate to their team. However, much of the time this “delegation” is simply telling your team what to do, usually casually in a meeting or in some hallway conversation – and then out of sight, out of mind.
After all, you don’t have to manage someone else’s to-do list; that’s their responsibility. Right?
Leaders have to manage themselves. Right?
But: leaders who are interested in creating other leaders do more than just delegate tasks; they follow up with their team to ensure those tasks are being done. The trust might be communicated through delegation, but leaders are commissioned when you follow-up.
Here’s what following up with your team does: it communicates to them that whatever task you delegated to them was important enough to you and to the organization to ensure its completion.
I didn’t just give you something to do (that I don’t want to do); I gave you something important to do that we really need to make sure gets completed.
If I forgot that I told you to do it, then I’m communicating that it probably wasn’t important to get done – because it wasn’t important enough for me to even remember.
ATTEMPTS VS. OUTCOMES
If you’re leading staff in a church context, you can get pretty squeamish about measurable outcomes. (How many people showed up to serve? How many people attended? How many people stepped up to lead? Etc.) So much of what we do feels intangible and qualitative. And what about when the numbers don’t really tell the full story?
So, we settle for attempts.
We permit our staff or volunteers to just try, and if it doesn’t work out, well… that’s the nature of the beast.
But as a leader, you know that simply trying – even in a church context – is not enough.
Making an attempt to lead volunteers, cast vision, put on an event, grow a small group ministry, mobilize people to serve your community or share Jesus with their neighbors, is one thing.
Success is another. And if all you get is unsuccessful attempts from the people you’re leading, the writing is on the wall.
Not to mention: if we fail at what we’re trying to do, eternity is at stake. Literally.
Leaders who commission leaders don’t just permit attempts at success; they establish measurable outcomes of what success practically looks like (even imperfect ones), and encourage their team to hit those targets.
- How many small group leaders will you recruit, train, and develop this fall?
- How many people will we baptize next year?
- How many invite stories do we want to celebrate during our next sermon series?
Of course, getting clear on the outcomes means getting clear on the strategies as well.
But as you do, here’s what you’ll find: people on your team who want to be leaders won’t push back.
They may push for more realistic outcomes (i.e. numbers that take into account past and present trends); but they won’t push back on putting a number on the wall. Those on your team who grind against any type of measurable outcomes are the same ones who don’t really want to lead.
Commission leaders to get results – and pretty soon you’ll have a team full of people pulling just as hard toward success as you are.