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Do You Lead from the Middle? Find 4 Helpful Ideas

It’s no secret that leadership is hard. Getting caught in the middle is a reality ministry leaders face because of the many roles and variety of people involved in and impacted by their ministry. Executive Directors or pastors lead from the middle of a circle as they work with Boards, stakeholders, staff and ministry teams. As the ministry grows its associate pastors, directors and managers find themselves in the middle of their own circles leading up, down and across the ministry.

The complexity and ambiguity of these situations raises many questions about how to lead well within this matrix of relationships across the ministry. Let’s explore these challenges and consider how to navigate them well with added savviness and influence.

1. Stepping into Authority

Leading in the middle creates ambiguity on knowing the scope of authority needed to both get the work done >> and to get that work done through others as you lead your team. Clarifying decision making authority as well as stepping up to the responsibilities of those decisions are necessary skills.. Assumptions are the enemy at this point. Take the time to have the needed conversations. Ask: Where does the authority lie? What specific decisions need to involve others? Which ones require input from others? Which ones need to be executed with confidence? Working through specific examples of decisions to be made can help clarify the scope of authority and sets tangible expectations that can move decisions forward without a bottleneck, Keep in mind, however, the need to involve key players when necessary.

2. Building Alliances

Leading in the middle requires leveraging influence in the variety of relationships across the organization. Authority will only get you so far. You’ve got to build relationships before you are able to rally people around a cause, a decision or a change. When it comes time to getting the work done it’s not about directing, dictating or doing it all yourself. To create momentum bring people together around good ideas and involve them along the way to tap into their input and insights.

3. Leverage Expertise

Build confidence in what you know, but don’t always wield it. Your expertise matters, but knowing when to access it and when to share it are key considerations. By looking to your team to harness their experience and skills you will build trust and they will see how they are adding value to the situation. Also, rely on other experts, as needed, as a resource you can offer when situations warrant it. Become the go-to person that your leader, other leaders, and the people on your team can access who provides a holistic perspective on how to leverage expertise when it’s needed. You don’t need to know it all and be willing to admit you don’t so that the best resources can be utilized to accomplish the desired outcomes.

4. Stay Anchored

As you journey through leadership in the middle you will be buffeted from all sides. Make sure to pursue your own growth. Build your leadership character. Connect with a mentor. Learn from mistakes. Grow in areas that are important for you and your ministry. Stay anchored in who you are and why you do what you do.

If you are leading in the middle your role is to make others shine! Ask questions that will draw out your leader’s vision to deeper levels. Then, be a translator of the strategy, linking what you do and what you ask others to do into that strategy. Ask questions that will draw out the on-the-ground realities that happen for everyone everyday. Find ways to communicate necessary information to decision makers to enhance the decisions with the richest information possible.

In all of this, recognize how important your role is as you bridge between different people and groups around your circle. Bring people, ideas and information together to create the necessary momentum to move the ministry forward.

Now what: Take time this week to explore one of these four areas and ask: How can I grow and improve in this area as a way of enhancing my ability to lead from the middle? Please consider sharing what you are learning by responding in the comment section for this post.

Til’ next time, Annie

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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center of Coaching Excellence.

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