As a child, I often watched variety shows on TV that featured a plate spinner. Plate spinning is an art where a person spins plates on poles, relying on a gyroscopic effect (like a top spinning upright), without them falling off. The plate spinner would begin with only a few plates, but quickly add more as he controlled the ones he had spinning. As more plates on poles were added, the humor of it all was the anticipation of watching this person run from one wobbling plate to another, attempting to regain control before the plates crashed to the floor.
Leadership is much like plate spinning. As one who has started and grown churches and organizations, the birthing stages are fun and easy, with only a few responsibilities (i.e., spinning plates). But if the leader is effective, responsibilities grow as the organization grows. Soon the leader finds him/herself running from one growth issue (think wobbling plate) to another. It can become overwhelming and exhausting.
Effective Leadership Pays Attention to the Right Things
Effective leadership involves paying attention to the right things. A healthy leader develops an intuition for knowing what he or she must personally lead, and what to leave to others. Scott Cormode, a principal at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, has observed that both beginning start-up leaders and fledgling leaders make the same mistake of paying attention to too many things.
I have discovered through many mistakes that effective leadership is all about focusing on timeless priorities. No matter the size of the organization, no matter how many staff one must manage, there are timeless priorities that can keep the leader happy and effective in God’s calling.
The Two Most Important Priorities
- Know Your Leader. I want to be led before I lead. First and foremost, effective Christian leadership is starting each day with the greatest Leader the world has ever known, Jesus Christ. He is the One Who leads me! Spending time in praise, worship, prayer, and His Word, makes all the difference. Effective leadership must be a partnership with His power and guidance. I want to listen to the Holy Spirit before I listen to any one’s problems or struggles. I want to be in tune with the rhythm of God before I enter the chaos of the organization I lead.
- Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses. The second priority of effective Christian leadership is learning to develop one’s strengths and manage one’s weaknesses. In a perfect world, we would all be good at everything. In an ideal world, we would have perfect hair, rock hard abs, and have winning lottery tickets in our pocket. But in the imperfect world we live in, we must prioritize our strengths and manage our weaknesses. This means that we must prioritize God’s anointing and gifting for our life and delegate our weaknesses to others. This is what Paul meant when he said to Timothy, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you…” (2 Timothy 1:6) Paul had learned that successful leadership involves growing and developing one’s God-given gifts.
In conclusion, the humor of the plate spinner is the mistake of the leader. The effective leader cannot keep all the plates spinning by themselves. We must focus on timeless priorities: partnering with Jesus and working with others (more gifted in our weak areas), if we are to be the most effective for God’s glory.