Leading from the Back of the Bus

I recently finished reading the book, “Leaders Eat Last. Good stuff! Whether you are into church planting or leading an older church, the message is for you. Put your people forward and good things will happen. Pull all the kudos toward yourself and the world won’t be such a nice place.

Sure, there are leaders who make themselves the hero in their own story and find ways to take credit for every team victory. But, they seldom see multiplication growth. True, this approach to leadership can, and often will, prevail for years—even decades. But in the end the Kingdom of God loses to the kingdom of a bigshot (smallshot???).

This goes beyond taking credit for every good thing to showing appreciation to your team. Long ago I discovered that the best way to get more from a team is to publicly brag on their victories. It motivates the “braggee” and most often causes someone else to imitate the favorable behavior.

Don’t be a Diminsher

My friend, Dave Ferguson, expands on this in his wonderful book, Heromakers. But, I’ve found a similar, but opposite approach in a secular book called, “Multipliers,” by Liz Wiseman. Wisemen parallels Ferguson’s Heromaker approach but adds to it by identifying leaders who function as “diminishers.” These are the people who bend toward finding fault in the people in their charge. I recently watched a leader demoralize a champion team by criticizing every achievement. Sometimes there without detail—“this is simply not good enough—try again.” Not good. Wiseman’s designation, diminisher describes this leader and their “contribution” to the team.

Pastors can easily fall into the trap of diminishing the accomplishments of others. It’s nearly as easy as the mistake of sucking up the glory when something good happens. It’s time for more than an attitude check? Question: Do people feel better for working for you? Question 2: What’s the rate of staff turnover in your church or organization? Question 3: Do people who trained under you go on to bigger and better things because of you?

Was Jesus Clowning Around???

Here’s the biggest question: Do you actually believe that Jesus meant it when he said, “He who is greatest among you will be the servant of all?

This works out in practical ways like eating after everyone else was served. But how about the way you present ideas to your team? Do you throw things on the table as the boss, or can you humble yourself enough to present ideas for thoughtful consideration without glossing them over with the taint of positional authority? This is what I think of when I hear the phrase, “leading from the back of the bus.” I’ve always tried to come to my staff as the member with least authority when presenting new ideas. I’ll often lay something on the table, asking to “think about” testing it. Sometimes I’ll pitch an idea then ask the person with the least authority (or seniority) their opinion first. After that I’ll work my way up the, often unspoken, leadership hierarchy. I know that when the people with more credibility speak they unintentionally silence opposing opinions from the less well recognized members of the team.

What does Your Team Say, Behind Your Back?

Most of all, I want to approach any team as Paul did the Roman church leaders,, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10 NKJV).

If I queried your team would they say you approach them with brotherly love (actually living it)? Would they say you prefer them in honor over yourself? Or would they call you a demoralizing agent in their midst—a diminisher?

Was there a heromaker who helped get you to where you are? Who are they and what did they do that became part of who you are as a leader? Please tell us about them in the comments box—it’s a way for you to make a hero of a heromaker.



2 thoughts on “Leading from the Back of the Bus”

  1. Ralph, your willingness to be this kind of leader — promoting me and multitudes of others, believing in us more than we believed in ourselves — is why I will be eternally grateful to have had you as my pastor.

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