Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

Transitioning from Direct to Indirect Leadership

One of the biggest challenges facing a leader is the change from direct to indirect leadership. By this we mean the move from doing the leading to guiding others who are doing the direct leading. Some leaders can make this transition well, while others struggle with letting go. They can tend to stay too engaged, micro-managing, or seldom fully delegating to others important responsibilities. Here are several keys making the move from direct to indirect leadership both fruitful and healthy for all involved.

Foundational in this transition to indirect leadership is the clear conviction that at this time, for the good of the work and for maximizing their own contribution, the best thing to do is let others do the direct leading. This means that we assume a coaching-oversight role for those who are now taking the primary leadership role. This change will greatly increase the influence and capacity of the leader as they multiply other leaders who are now doing the direct leadership. This move must be made with the conviction that the demands of the work (usually due to success and growth related problems) require more leadership capacity. The leader who has been doing the direct leading now becomes the bottleneck to future growth unless they make this transition from direct to indirect coaching and supervising of other leaders. Being convinced that this is our best contribution at this time, having a sense of calling from the Lord about this move, is essential. If not, confusion can happen for all involved.

When leading directly we frequently have clear titles, roles, and jobs. There is a sense of security that comes from this clarity and outcomes of our leadership can be easy to measure. We meet with a person and their lives are impacted by our influence. They then tell us how grateful they are for our leadership. The feedback loop is clear and direct – we lead and see-feel-know the impact. But when moving to a more indirect role those feedback loops are longer and not so clear. Indirect leaders are often thinking and leading on a much longer time horizon and thus the feedback based upon their decisions can be years ahead.

In an indirect leadership role we are coaching and supervising other leaders who are receiving that kind of clear feedback. Our indirect leadership influence is often hidden behind those leaders in direct leadership roles and many being impacted will never know of our roles as we coach and guide others. Instead of receiving the positive feedback from our leadership, we can find ourselves continually dealing with others’ problems and mess. Without intention, we have become “one of them” – those leaders who sit in many organizational meetings, often criticized for being out of touch or questioned about overall importance of their contribution. This is why it is so very important to be convinced that this is our greatest contribution.

Without this conviction it will be easy to seek some connection again with more direct involvement. We justify it by saying to ourselves, “Oh, this is too important to let others lead.” Or we can mistakenly think it is serving those we lead by taking a more direct involvement rather than delegating to them. We can justify it by saying we are serving by lifting a burden from them or even that I will do a better job on this than they will. And in reality, we often can do a better job due to more experience and maturity. But we forget that we were once in their position and someone trusted us with responsibility knowing that we would learn valuable lessons and grow as a leader. And if we were truly honest with ourselves it is our ego or personal insecurities that drive us to seek those compliments, clarity of impact, or hands-on involvement once again. The ambiguity of indirect leading can be a threat for some.

Is it time to step out of your direct leadership role to make room for other leaders to emerge and grow into their leadership? Are you the bottleneck to growth by clinging onto your direct role due to the seeming ambiguity of the indirect leadership role? Making this move is a great privilege and a high calling, especially if it is needed due to God’s blessing on the work. May you take this courageous step and do it with grace, as you empower the next generation to grow into the yoke of their leadership.

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5 thoughts on “Transitioning from Direct to Indirect Leadership

  1. Ed Newell on said:

    Thanks for the great blog on transitioning from direct to indirect leadership.  One of the areas in our lives where we have found this to be so necessary is in the parenting and leadership development of our adult children.  We have struggled at times with timing and implementation for each child, but have learned much and have been forgiven much.  We were fired as parents by our children long ago, but they have all graciously rehired us as valued consultants and coaches.  It breaks our hearts as we witness parents who have not learned this, how they are killing off the hearts of their adult children by demanding to still be in charge.  A wise shepherd needs to know when to lead from the front and when to keep a watchful eye from the rear.  We have found that being invited to influence has paved the way to fruitfulness not only in our lives, but also in the lives of those we partner with. It’s amazing how we tend to catch something like this in a ministry context but miss it with those in our own families

  2. Mike Hearon on said:

    From CO Minneapolis staff member Reid Jilik – This past month I have been feeling overwhelmed with all the things on the campus and a limited campus staff team to help.

    I read Exodus 18, and in this passage you have Jethro (Moses father-in-law) and Moses. Moses is helping the people understand the Law and apply it to their lives. Jethro see the people standing from morning until night, and Moses working from morning to night, and responds by saying what you are doing is not good, you and the people will get burnt out (my paraphrasing). Jethro goes on to tell Moses to delegate some of his responsibilities to God fearing, trustworthy men.

    I know a random text in the bible, and the advice from Jethro is to delegate. I began to think about all the things on my plate (bible studies, Discipleship group, guys I lead, weekly meetings, class I am in, my wife, home chores, responsibilities at church, staff meetings, weekly prayer) and it felt like an endless list that could never be accomplished.

    This led me to reflect personally from Exodus 18.
    Question: Why is it hard for me to delegate? (And at first my answer seemed innocent enough.) Answer: because I want things to be done well. I then began to dig deeper. Question: Why do I want things to be done well? Answer: because those things are a reflection of me and I want to be viewed well. Question: Why do you want to be viewed well? Answer: because I want to liked by students, and staff. Question: Why do you want to be liked by students and staff? Answer: because I love the approval of man. Question: why do I love the approval of man? Answer: because I want to somehow measure up, and be good enough.

    I began to realize from a seemingly weird text and some reflection, that my feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to delegate things to students, really showed an idol in my life of self-preservation, and self-worship. I trust myself with all of these things, because I want to look good. Even in these good “ministry” things I was making them about me and not Jesus! I needed to repent and delegate some of these things I have been holding so closely too. So I let some of my students lead bible studies, help with our meetings.

    I was loosening a grip of ministry success, and trusting God to work. I realized I was preventing some of my guys from stepping up and learning how to do some of these things. I also was overcome by thankfulness, to be able to sit back and rest in the Gospel in what Jesus did for me, and to not feel like I had to measure up, and thankful that these men were getting opportunities to lead.

    16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” 2 Tim 3:16
    Even seemingly weird texts can bring us to a place of brokenness and cause us to run to Jesus.

  3. 0mak0 on said:

    Tom,

    This was very encouraging and helpful. Thank you!

    We are about to receive our first EDGE team this Fall and this will be a critical role to learn, for me and for them.

    Matt Kinnick

  4. Костя on said:

    Now, this is what I experience seeing others stepping back and leading indirectly to let us grow in leadership. It is helpful, indeed. And it is good to realize the struggle one may face when shifting to indirect leadership. Thank you for heads up, Tom.

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