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Leadership vs. Pulling Rank

With Guest Blogger
Lisa DeLay, M.A. Religion: Spiritual Formation, class of '10.

Have you ever noticed how some people can look great on paper, but when tested, fall short?

The rigors of interpersonal complications seem to stump and stumble them. On the surface, it's odd that these folks who've succeeded in closed environments like a family business, a tight-knit-organization, or public service can crash and burn as leaders in other environments. But, their failures tell us a great deal about how to do the reverse and lead well in business or ministry.

False Validation
Some fail when they assume that their resumé validates their leadership prowess.
They may move into vacuums of power and take command thinking success is assured. After issuing directives they soon grow surprised when underlings are unproductive, unresponsive, or avoidant. When their leadership falters turnover is high and morale is low. Consequently, the qualities or capabilities of the underlings, not the leader's abilities, are blamed and the situation may not improve.

Pulling Rank
Some men and women who've failed as leaders aren't really leading at all.
Instead, they are "pulling rank". They assume that they've already earned the right to be obeyed. They assume that their involvement or superintendence alone is reason enough to be followed. They assume that with authoritarian delivery or with subtle intimidation others will do their bidding. They may confuse bossiness with leadership.

Ordinary people don't appreciate rank at all. They resist the pulling of it, too. If they cannot openly defy a leader who commands them, they will do it in passive-aggressive ways. Maybe they will drop the ball so a project fails. Maybe they will go rogue, sabotage, or abandon the team.

Higher values for most people are free will and a combination of team and individual actualization and success. Until a tight-knit subculture is established tendencies like seniority or ranking typically undermine the objective of both the leader and the group being lead. Even in tight-knit subcultures a pullin-rank method of command and control is dubious and problematic.

Inspiration and Admiration
To be led we must be inspired. Our leaders are those we admire as good and fair; and those we respect as competent. Our leaders don't rely on issuing commands from above. They work alongside us and have our best interests in mind. They don't seek to dominant us or use us for their own gain or resumé fodder.

What else can we learn from these differences?

We can learn that leading is really serving.
Humility and relationship building are at the core of leading individuals and any group well. Successful leaders find ways to show grace, patience, and encourage others to be their best. The glory isn't for them, it's for the group. They garnish successes among individual group members and the whole group. Best of all, admired leaders build new leaders in this same manner. They notice emerging leadership qualities and rather than being threaten by these traits in others, they seize the opportunity to nurture those qualities into a fine new incarnation of leadership and success for the future.

What about you?

What are some ways you lead others?


I've totally been here, assuming that my title gives me the respect of those who are under my leadership. Wrong! I think that's a sign of insecurity. Guilty as charged.

Last week, I read in Luke 6 that Jesus went off the mountain to pray before choosing the 12. Then he came down with them and stood on a levell place. (v. 17) I realize this could just be a deion of the topography, but I like the idea of Jesus metaphorically standing on a level place with the disciples. Not that he WAS equal to them or anything but that he didn't pull rank just for the sake of pulling rank.

I think as leaders we can learn from the level place. I respect a leader who has been in the trenches, done the hard work of the ones he or she is leading and isn't above doing the little things and not just the big important things.

So, yeah. I don't want to be a leader who pulls ranks. I want to lead from level ground. Thanks for the thoughts!

Posted by: Lisa Bartelt | October 9, 2012, 12:51 pm

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