Managers and Leaders

It is odd how management feels like leadership to both the manager and the managed.

Right from the top, let’s be clear that I am not talking about positional managers or leaders – those whose role or title in an organization defines them as one of the above. This post is about the functions of managing and leading. I would imagine that we can all bring to mind the name of at least one individual that we admired as a manager or leader that did not have the title or role. And I am just as confident that we can all bring to mind the names (more names here than in the former) of individuals that held the title or role, but were not effective in the function.

Let’s also agree that there is an undefinable overlap between these two concepts – undefinable due to the myriad of variables involved: personality, temperament, experience, gifts, context, urgency, other players in the relationship, and so forth.

But I want to be clear – when you move away from the fuzzy center where these concepts overlap, there are some stark and important differences between the two. Let’s examine one of them.

Path vs Place

Consider the intrepid wagon master out in front of the parade of the westward bound wagon train. Is a leader? Is he a manager? One would assume that because he is out in front, that he is the leader… because that is his position. He heads out west – sometimes due west, sometimes north by northwest – but he heads out and the train follows. Because they have to. They have no idea where they’re going, and they believe he knows the path.

But as the sun sets, the wagon master turns around and becomes more manager than leader. Stop here – at this place. Move over there. Park this. Feed that. Circle up! Not like that, like this. He becomes more granular in his involvement, making sure everyone and everything is in their place. And he does this for the good of the parade. He knows that safety at a place is just as important as safety on the path.

But imagine for a minute if the wagon master “managed” the train on the path. He would spend very little time at the front of the train, instead spending his time making sure that wagon two was lined up behind wagon one, and wagon three was positioned correctly behind wagon two, and so on. He would spend his time making sure that the chuck wagon had enough chuck and that the cattle were close enough to each other to be herd. He would instruct the drovers on proper syntax and those driving the wagons on the proper grip and tension on the reins.

And while all this managing is going on, wagon number one (remember – one of those that has no idea where it is going?) is heading west, sometimes north by northwest, sometimes south by southeast, sometimes…. and the rest of the wagons follow. And in fact – they are making up their own path as they go along.  But they’re moving! (Can you hear someone say it? Well, we’re moving! That’s what is important!) Remember: where no leadership is present, someone will lead. Even if it is in the wrong direction. Even if there are great managers on the scene.

A leader exists when he or she has followers who journey together on a path, toward a destination, a goal, a purpose, or a vision. A leader finds and knows the path, leads others to discover the path, challenges and equips others to navigate the path, and works so that all successfully complete the path. A manager exists when there is a place to be maintained: tasks to be done and people and resources to be organized. I know you can see the overlap here. It is obvious that the most effective way to succeed down the path is to effectively manage the places. But the inverse is not true – as much as we wish it were.  Just because A leads to B, does not mean that B leads to A. Many organizations – including churches – are mired in the day-to-day and week to week tasks but in fact aren’t really going anywhere. They have somehow been convinced that if they manage their place (people and resources) well, they are because of that, on the journey down the path. You can’t be stuck in a place and on a journey down the path at the same time.

There Cheshire Cat has it right – if you don’t know where you want to go, it doesn’t really matter which direction you take.

You can take the leader test right now. It certainly could be about you as a leader, but it can also be about your “leaders”. Here’s the test – it’s a one question take heart exam. (Don’t take it home, take it to heart.)


Where is your church going?

Now, now… no spiritual pablum for answers. For example,

“We’re going to be everything God wants us to be!”

No amount of passion in the making of this statement can hide the fact that this is directionless. If you asked the wagon master on the day of the big start, “Where are we going?”, would you have been inspired, or even satisfied, with, “We’re going to be everything a wagon train can be?”

Hardly. You would expect him to be able to communicate a destination, a time frame, barriers to success, bridges to overcome some of those barriers, and detours to move around others. But all of this information would be relative to the destination. In fact, you would not even be satisfied with the more simple answer, “West”. Where are we going? “West?” He would say, “Nevada”, or “California”, or some destination that would by the very utterance, indicate the key measure of a successful journey.

Where is your church going?

We’re going to be a praying church! (Does that sound more like a path or a place to you?)

We’re going to be a friendly church! (ditto)

We’re going to be a church that preaches the Word! (Please!)

We’re going to be a worshiping church! (Enough!)

The Answer should be as specific as you would expect to hear from the wagon master. And it shouldn’t be a secret that only the staff knows. The Answer should describe where you’re going by communicating what God has purposed for your church, how you plan to get there, bridges that will be built, and barriers that will be overcome. The path should be described as if by one who has journeyed that way before. The Answer should be corporate rather than individualistic. The wagon train travels together on the path.  It is a corporate experience. It is not a bunch of wagons that just happen to be going in the same direction on the same path at the same time.

If you have no such answer, it’s possible that you have some great managers in your life (or perhaps you are a great manager). Leaders can’t help but communicate the path. To inspire, motivate, and equip others to take the journey with them is part of their DNA. A church with leaders will have members who can describe, in part or in whole, the path that God has for them.

Why? Because their leaders… well, they lead!

This entry was posted in Leadership, Purpose, Strategic Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Managers and Leaders

  1. Very thought-provoking. I can see principles that I need to apply to my parenting, too.

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