Posted in Leadership

Title-less Leadership

If you didn’t have a job title associated with your name, what changes?

What changes if there’s no longer a title to give you purpose? If there’s no title to give you authority? If there’s no title to give you prestige…what becomes of you?

For several years, the sign pictured in this blog has been outside my office door. And as I write this, that title will soon not be mine. (If you need some context, you can read my last post, The Irrational Decision In (my) Ministry Leadership). So, I can’t yet fully answer the questions I posed above, and therefore this is an aspirational post.

Yet, I felt like while I will be the one living title-less, it could be helpful for you to at least consider title-less living, even if theoretically.

Title-less Influence

A review of history often tell stories of people who did great things and led effectively before they ever assumed positional leadership. They had influence before they had the title, and usually that leadership contribution got them a title. Quality leadership typically indicates a positional title is coming.

So here are a few reminders for me, and perhaps you…

Lead with or without your title. Don’t make them put a sign outside your door before you begin to lead effectively. There’s nothing magical about a title or nameplate, and in some cases, it can actually be a hindrance.

Don’t equate title with value. I believe with all my heart that God loves (me) you before you did anything. There’s no earning, and God is certainly not waiting on you to get a title to show His love.

Surround yourself with people who love you (and don’t really care about your title). For every person you direct in your titled job, make sure you also have someone present in your life who you don’t direct. You need people in your life who don’t need your titled-self and what comes with that title. When you lead, you’re often needed by others. And that’s great. But it’s also taxing. You need people who when they see you, don’t come with a need or agenda, but come to you because they like you (with or without your leadership acumen).

(Life hack: if you try to use your titled-self amongst this group of people, well, hypothetically, you might be told, “Brian, I don’t need an executive pastor in our kitchen.”)

Maintain a title that’s a match. Sometimes our ego wants a title that reflects our accomplishments and tenure. We want it to match the hard work we’ve done. But to do this, the job often has to change. To have the more impressive title, you have to modify your role. And now you have a great title, but no longer a role that matches your desire or skills. You become susceptible to the “Peter Principle.”

God called you to lead. He gave you skills to do that well. And with or without a title, you’re valuable to God, you’re valuable to others, and your contribution is needed, even if it’s title-less contribution.

We know God’s Kingdom work is not only accomplished through titled-people (and pretty often He operates outside of that), and we need to work toward what He has for us whether we wield a title or not.

If you have a title, great, I bet you earned it. But could you still find value and purpose without it? It’s a road I’m walking, and might be good for all leaders to consider the theoretical title-less test.

 

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Shadow Working: Who’s Getting the Credit?

Some of our successes will be in the shadows of others. And figuring out how to respond well to “shadow working” is key to effective leadership.

Just this past Sunday, a professional golfer named Brooks Koepka won one of the four biggest golf tournaments of the year, the PGA Championship.  It’s his second Major win this year and it earned him $2 million in prize money. Yet, most of the attention after the golf tournament was given to another. Koepka’s win was in the shadow of another golfer he just beat at golf, yep, Tiger Woods.

Yes, Koepka did get to hold up the trophy and he got to bank some $2 million dollars. But what must it have felt like to be the best golfer on the course, and every time you hit a ball, spectators were leaving the hole you were playing to try to make their way to get a glimpse of another?

On our best days, we’ll embrace Jesus’ teaching of “the last shall be first,” and maybe believe what my friend Todd Adkins says, that “A big part of leadership is recognizing that your fruit often grows on other people’s trees.” Those are both true. But some days shadow working is going to sting. Those days when like Koepka, you were the best performer, problems-solver, minister, or contributor, and yet, someone else gets the fanfare?

Shadow working is going to happen. It’s going to happen despite your contribution being the best contribution given. Or despite your efforts being the reason the project happened. Or despite the idea being yours. Or despite the music in the worship gathering being impactful because of the work and prayers you put into it; there will be others who, at times, will get the appreciation, limelight and accolades.

God created you to be exactly who He wanted you to be. And when we’re working in God’s given design, the work and opportunity He’s given should be all you need. But there are days when the person with the bigger personality, the bigger platform (literally or figuratively), or has regaled history will cast a shadow on your work and it won’t feel great.

So, here are some ways to manage the feelings of shadow working—

  • Assume the best…that the person who has the spotlight isn’t trying to take it away from you, it’s just some people naturally attract attention.
  • Manage your expectations…some work is meant to be shadow work. And that kind of work will create limited appreciation. So, don’t expect a parade when your role, at best, will get you a pat on the back.
  • Understand who God called you to be…and if God’s design means you’re in the shadows of others, well, relish that you are getting to do exactly what God has given you to do.
  • Cast light on others…don’t be a bitter shadow worker. Celebrate the work, and even celebrate whatever contribution the other worker is getting. The golfer Koepka understood this. In his post-round interviews Koepka celebrated Tiger Woods and acknowledged why the fans would leave him to flock to Tiger and what he was doing on the course. It’s easier to allow others to have the limelight when your value is determined by a God that loves you with our without your contributions.

I’ve received public credit for work that was done by others. And I’ve also watched others get credit for work I had done. And there’s been times I believe my contribution was the most valuable contribution, but because another person had performance history, an established platform, or just a winsome personality, they got the attention. And on my best days, I’m over it quickly. On others, well, I’ve needed to manage around it. So, if you’re a shadow worker, manage around any entitlement feelings; and most of all, my hope is your value is determined by our loving God.

 

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Expressed permission to “Get Back!”

Who’s telling you to “get back!”? Who has the authority to step in and tell you to “step back” from something you’re doing?

You’ve likely seen it, but you may not know what it’s called. Or actually, what the person is called. Most college and professional football teams have a “get back coach.” During the week they have another role with the team (strength and conditioning coach or maybe a linebackers’ coach). But on game day, they have the charge to keep over-zealous players and coaches off the playing field (who aren’t supposed to be on field).

Why? Well people get hurt on football sidelines when they venture too far out. Also, their team can get penalized for crossing into the marked box where referees and players are roaming.

In a very odd scene, you have a head football coach who’s flailing and yelling on the sideline, and at the same time, inching closer and closer to the game action. And then behind him, you have the “get back coach.” And for some coaches prone to wander, the “get back coach” is literally touching him at all times or within grabbing distance at all times. He’s ready to grab the coach’s waistband and pull him back.

All this to help the wandering coach avoid injury for himself or a penalty for the team.

Who in your life has the authority to metaphorically grab your waistband and put you back into place? Who’s keeping you from harming yourself or the “team” (church) you lead?

“Get Back” Situations

If you were to make a distasteful comment in a meeting that most people would choose to ignore because you’re the boss, who’s going to come to you directly and let you know you crossed a line? What if you lingered too long after church talking to a member of the opposite sex who’s not your spouse? Who can pull you aside and let you know you ventured out too far? If in an email you wrote a sentence that caused harm to others or was mean-spirited, who’s going to tell you it was too much?

Who can tell you the last 2% and not fear retribution? Who loves you enough to be a truth-teller?

Expressed Permission

We may think we already have “get back” people in our life. But they’re not official or effective until you’ve given them expressed permission to speak bluntly to you. They’ve got to have permission to figuratively, or literally, pull you back by your waistband to avoid harm to yourself or the areas and people you lead.

When’s the last time someone you trust confronted you and told you to “get back?” If it’s been awhile, you’ve either not arranged for this coaching in your life or you’re not prone to wander. My guess, you’ve not yet given someone permission to help you when you can’t see you need “get back” help.

If you don’t give this permission, most people won’t do it. And this is especially true for those of us who are clergy and/or have tenure or positional authority. There’s a natural tendency toward being perceived as untouchable or “unchallengeable.” You’ve got to ask for it, and then when one of your “get back coaches” grabs you by the waistband, well, heed their warning.

If head football coaches making millions of dollars a year put a “get back coach” in place just to help avoid 15 yard penalties, than maybe as church and family leaders we should realize our stakes are much higher and we should put them in place too.

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