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The Difference Between Mediocre and Great Leaders

The Difference Between Mediocre and Great Leaders

I’m not writing this article because I’m a great leader. In fact, the last two years of my leadership journey have been the most difficult two years thus far. The church I lead, City Beautiful Church, stepped out from the comfort of our mother church about two years ago.

What I offer here are a few things I’ve picked up on the long road from being a mediocre leader to becoming a great leader. Sometimes that road still feels like it’s going to be a long one, but I’m not sure great leaders are people who ever arrive. They are people who are willing to press on in the journey even when things are tough.

Mediocre leaders perform tasks while great leaders empower people.

Perhaps you feel exhausted in your leadership. It most likely comes down to this: you’re trying to do everything yourself. When you try to do everything yourself, everything you do will be as small as you and your capacity. Organizations thrive when leaders stop doing stuff and start investing in people. It’s simple math. More gifted people living in their strengths means more capacity for productivity and healthy relationships. When you shift your attention from projects to people, your organization will have a greater capacity to accomplish your mission. It might feel scary for a while, but in the long run, you’ll be glad you shifted your focus.

When you try to do everything yourself, everything you do will be as small as you and your capacity.

Mediocre leaders try to connect with everyone while great leaders connect with a few.

One of the greatest weights I’ve felt as a leader is being the relational glue for our church. I felt the need to personally and directly connect with anyone who wanted to connect with me. Eventually, I learned that my best investment is not a little bit into a lot of people. A leader’s best investment is a high level of attention given to a small number of specific people. You might feel the pressure to constantly be accessible, but eventually you’ll learn that’s not possible and—in the long run—it’s a disservice to yourself, your most important relationships, your team, and your mission. If you focused on investing well into a dozen key leaders who then invest in others, you’ve suddenly and exponentially increased your leadership capacity.

A leader’s best investment is a high level of attention given to a small number of specific people.

Mediocre leaders attempt to replicate what they see others doing while great leaders draw inspiration.

God wants to accomplish something unique through you where you are. That means replication is not the way to go. When you see or experience something meaningful, honor it—not by attempting to replicate it—but by asking, “How can this inform the mission and make-up of my local expression of the church?” In asking this question, you will see God do something beyond what you could ever ask for or imagine. You will enter into unknown territory with God, and it’s in the unknown places we discover a deeper level of intimacy and new aspects of His character.

Mediocre leaders lead reactively in response to others while great leaders lead proactively.

The easiest trap a leader can fall into is playing firefighter. You sit and wait for a phone call, and respond to the emergency. This quickly moves an organization from a place of advancing the mission to maintaining the status quo. Great leaders have a vision and consistently work to execute that vision. Don’t get distracted by emergencies.

The second reactive trap a lot of leaders fall into is feeling the need to continually add ministries and services in an attempt to please people. It’s the “this church really should have/do _________” statement we hear from people all the time. This is where leading proactively comes into play. When you have a sure-footed, clear vision, you know when to say “no” to another good idea or suggestion and stay on mission. Leaders who lead reactively end up saying “yes” to too many good ideas, and end up sacrificing effectiveness on the altar of pleasing people.

Leaders who lead reactively end up saying “yes” to too many good ideas, and end up sacrificing effectiveness on the altar of pleasing people.

Mediocre leaders fill holes in their team while great leaders stay focused in their role and gifts.

Sometimes it’s better to put an idea to rest than it is to fill the hole left by a departing volunteer. Additionally, it’s better to not start a ministry than it is to start it, and not start it well. A church with a few great ministries will be more effective than a church with lots of mediocre ones—especially when you or other key leaders are the ones filling the holes. Know what you’re good at, and stick with it (while leaving room for growth). Know your capacity and operate in it (while leaving room for stretching).

Sometimes it’s better to put an idea to rest than it is to fill the hole left by a departing volunteer.

Mediocre leaders build things for people while great leaders build things with people.

It’s tempting to simply build the things we like and attempt to find people to make it happen. But that’s not what a great leader does. A great leader invites people along for the journey and develops things alongside them. This isn’t about letting go of your vision and simply facilitating the visions of others. This is a picture of recognizing that a great vision is much bigger than your limited capacity. So find people you trust, who are full of wisdom, and actually entrust them with things. If your vision rests on you, it will die with you. When your vision and mission are developed alongside of others, it can outgrow and outlive you.

If your vision rests on you, it will die with you.

What traits have you seen in great leaders? How are you intentionally moving from mediocrity into greatness? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About The Author

Cole NeSmith

Cole is the Creative Director and co-pastor of City Beautiful Church in Orlando, FL. His new book, Spiritual Innovation, helps us move from the need for control to a new level of exploration, expectation, discovery, and creativity in our faith and lives. He also creates interactive and reflective art and worship experiences through his company, Uncover The Color. He blogs at colenesmith.com and is on Twitter @ColeNeSmith.

2 Comments

  1. Gordon

    Great thoughts here! It’s easy to fall in the do-it-yourself mode when deadlines approach and/or you don’t have enough man power. Your visionary language about moving forward and stop trying to be everything to everyone is encouraging.

    Reply
  2. Andries Maine

    Mediocre people are not good enough people. They don’t want other people to grow up, and they think for theirs not for others.

    Reply

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