Tag Archive: delegation

Swooping Leadership Warnings

I’ve done it and it’s been done to me. Likely, you’ve done it and you’ve been on the receiving end.

Swooping Leadership: With little background, context, or subject matter expertise, swooping in from a higher level leadership position to someone else’s work or “weeds,” and even while uninformed, directing work and making decisions.

Now, I thought I had coined a phrase and definition, but after writing my first draft, I Googled “my phrase” and discovered I’m late to the party. But at least I’m bested by a superior leader and writer, Ken Blanchard. That said, he uses a different and likely better phrase, “Seagull Manager” to describe a similar concept. You can order the book The One Minute Manager and read his chapter and more about his concept in a website post from Modern Servant Leader. That post describes Blanchard’s Seagull Manager term as, “Individuals who manage by raising alarms based on little knowledge, provide negative feedback, then leave others to clean up the mess.”

Reading the book and article would be worthy of your time, but since I’m handling the content with a less negative meaning and context, I’ll go ahead and use my inferior phrase, swooping leadership.

Swooping leadership can happen:

  • When a leader has delegated work but then has second thoughts and just can’t let it go
  • When a leader is bored
  • When a leader can’t seem to affect change in their own assigned work
  • When a leader feels a little bit of their leadership influence can serve someone a project
  • When the nature of their leadership position may require it (such as, board members)
Reminders if you’re going to swoop
  1. Ask questions before you direct. Look, I’m sure you’re a good leader, but if you choose to swoop in, spend some time in discovery before you begin directing. If you spend four minutes in discovery on a project they’ve worked four hours, or forty hours, you’re likely going to misdirect them.
  2. Guide, don’t push. Your title may give you the freedom to push, but that doesn’t mean you should use it. If your leadership advice is solid, they’ll see you as an asset. And your advice and guidance will be well received and even desired. You have to show them you can provide a better way.
  3. Suggest from your experience, don’t demand from how you’d handle hypothetically. Your experiences can be valuable. But your experiences are likely not the exact same thing they’re dealing with. So don’t draw parallels from your history to their work when it’s not there. Don’t transpose your leadership wiring and abilities on them—they’re not you. Suggest ideas when it can serve them, but know when “your way” is really just hypothetical.
Reminders for receiving the swooping leader
  1. Respect the positional authority they have. While I hope they are also good leaders, either way, you need to respect the positional authority they’ve been given and act accordingly. And in the case of decision making boards and elders, know they’re fulfilling their responsibility. They likely have their own job, but someone has asked them to provide oversight and advice. So be accepting of their role in your work.
  2. Get clarity on your authority and boundaries. Albeit not passively aggressively, understand what authority you’ve been given to do the work (I’ve blogged on delegation phrases and pathways previously). And if the authority previously given is now being challenged by their swooping, get clarity. You could say something like, “Previously you had given me a clear pathway to research this, think through it, and make the decision I feel is best. Am I still free to do that or would you prefer I do this the way you just explained?” This makes the swooper make the choice on boundaries and authority and they’ll have to own their swooping.
  3. Be openhanded to their input. Their swooping leadership could make your work better. What if utilizing one of their suggestions would make the work for your church even 2-3% better? Wouldn’t that be worth it? Constant swooping leadership can be infuriating, but don’t miss good input because you’re annoyed.

As both a swooper and a “I got swooped,” know the difference between swooping leadership that gives credible input and swooping leadership that makes swooping changes (see what I did there?).

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Working with Visionaries Effectively

Visionary leaders are awesome.

They’re even awesome-er if they’ve surrounded themselves with others who can help ensure that their visions get realized – or pushed back if they don’t add up.

Some of you are equipped to work alongside visionary leaders – but sometimes, it can be difficult. Whether the visionary leader is awesome or not-so-awesome, working with them does require a “very particular set of skills” (said best in a Liam Neeson voice).

The person who has this set of skills can 1) work alongside a visionary, 2) bring their vision to fruition, and 3) speak up when the vision has no real fruit.

This person who is doing this is likely a leader themselves, but not a visionary one. Is that you? If so, you must be able to do two things:

  1. Know when to align with and put action to their vision
  2. Know how much horsepower to put toward a vision before realizing it’s not best for your church. (We typically avoid ditching visions, because we avoid sunk costs, but I’ve blogged before about the embracing of sunk costs within the church).

Ways to embrace and leverage the vision of the visionary, without it hurting your church, them, or you —

  1. Don’t rain on their parade

Don’t be “that guy” who kills every idea – and for sure don’t make it personal. Listen well to the full idea before weighing in on its viability. After you’ve listened, if you do have push-back, they’ll receive it better if you’ve taken the time to carefully consider their visionary idea.

  1. At the right moment, provide a reality-check to the vision

If you’re drowning in debt and the vision not only doesn’t eliminate debt, but furthers your indebtedness, that needs to be pointed out. You need to establish unbiased realities – and when possible, offer solutions how the vision could be managed around current and future realities.

  1. Make progress on fulfilling their vision, but do it incrementally (sometimes you’ll be a speed governor)

A gifted visionary may be frustrated when they deliver a vision, get the needed buy-in, and then see little to no progress on it. Assuming it’s a viable vision, begin work, but recognize it may not be at the pace they’d like. If you’ve done step #2 correctly, they’ll know that the vision will take time to be realized. Many times their vision may have come to them over night or on a prayer retreat, but it takes time to bring to fruition.

  1. Embrace their ability for visioneering and sometimes, just align on faith

A lot of the best visions are audacious. They don’t always align with predetermined plans. Some don’t make sense in our natural economy, but might in God’s economy. While I don’t think you should further visions that aren’t healthy or are even detrimental to your church, there will be times visions don’t add up but they’re still right. When those times happen, they’ll be times to step out in faith. Don’t limit visions to things you can figure out and seek God’s sense of calling to the vision.

  1. When you can’t make all of it happen, give them options

Let them prioritize which of their visionary ideas is most important. Sometimes visionary leaders have multiple visions, and your hesitancy is simply a capacity issue. Get their input about which one is most important or time-sensitive. In other cases, maybe you can’t fulfill the entire vision, but you can fulfill part of it. Don’t throw away the whole vision just because one portion isn’t viable. If there are parts of the vision that would stand alone, pursue those.

  1. Bring focus to any part lacking clarity

A visionary I worked would often say, “I can see A, and I can see Z. What I can’t see is what’s in-between.” He’s not focused on B through Y. Therefore, those parts are unclear. They lack focus. That’s where you come in. You can determine the importance of B through Y. Most great visions will lack clarity at some level, and that’s okay. It allows others to speak into the vision.

Some visions never come to fruition because they were simply not good. Or they were more about the visionary than the vision. But I wonder how many visions from God were given to gifted leaders, but never happened because the visionary didn’t have capable people to come alongside them?

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The Important Bookends of a Meeting

 ©Jeff Timmons/ Dollar Photo Club

So after reading my last post you implemented all the components to a great meeting (right?). Your meeting engaged people’s interest by compelling and mission-minded work, you spent time developing them, everyone had input, and you even spent time in laughter.

So now you’re wondering, “Is that enough for a great meeting?”

The answer, “Not quite.” While the components of the meeting I wrote about last week are critical to the actual meeting, a good meeting begins before you cover the first agenda item but doesn’t end when you complete the last agenda item.

A meeting worthy of people’s time and organization’s energy has two other parts. They’re the bookends to an excellent meeting. They are: 1) the advanced agenda and, 2) the meeting output document.

The Advance Agenda

The advance agenda adds value to the meeting in several ways. Here’s what an advanced agenda can do:

  • Signals to participants the importance of their engagement
  • Allows you as meeting leader to prepare
  • Provides more efficiency to the actual meeting time

For each of the meetings I lead, I email an advance agenda from 3-7 days in advance. It not only includes the agenda so participants know what will be covered, but I also attach supporting documentation. These are documents the meeting participants should read prior to the meeting they are attending.

By doing this, I’m able to spend less time in the meeting providing context for agenda items and less time discussing the elements of each agenda item. Why? Because the support documentation provided that same information.

There’s no doubt an advance agenda takes work. I’m always working a week out and my support documentation has to be at least 80% done. There are times that I tweak the agenda or supporting documentation after it goes out.

The Output Agenda

The agenda output allows clarity about decisions and provides assignments of work. A good meeting output document serves multiple purposes:

  • Provides “minutes” to the meeting. It reflects substantive conversations and decisions. It becomes an archive of what’s determined.
  • It clearly assigns who’s responsible for what action items.
  • It allows the meeting leader clarity about what was done and what’s to be done.
  • It provides a template for the next meeting.

Usually within 24 hours of our bi-weekly senior leadership team meeting I send out the meeting output. I ask participants to take five minutes to read through all the red comments and pay close attention to any bold red copy as that reflects assignments of work. I’ve provided a Sample Output here.

By simply taking notes throughout the meeting and then placing notes back into the agenda following the meeting (a 10-20 minute task), you’re able to make sure everyone gets an accurate review of the meeting. In order to do this work, I add thirty minutes to each of these meetings on my calendar so I can come back following the meeting and take care of the meeting output immediately.

Obviously, the participants are the recipients of your work. While they could all very well take their own notes and remember what they’re to do, this output acts as another level of accountability. And besides, as the meeting leader I benefit most. As noted above, I now have a written record of what I’m going to do, what others are to do, and I have a beginning place for my next meeting agenda.


These meeting bookends do take work as a leader. But I’ve found for my most important meetings, this is time well spent. I encourage you to try it out.

How could people reading through materials in advance and having clear bolded red post-meeting assignments make your organization a more effective place?


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