Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Types of Leaders

One of the benefits of directing the curriculum at Wesley Seminary is that I get to learn a lot of things I wouldn't otherwise have had the time to.  Yesterday I was looking at the second chapter of our own Bob Whitesel's book, Preparing for Change Reaction.  There he was introducing the military distinction between strategic, tactical, and operational leaders.  As simple as it is, I find this a very helpful distinction, and from his notes it is clearly a common distinction made with various terms.

Here's my own twist.  From my own anecdotal experience, a whole lot of those who go into ministry think they are or want to be strategic leaders.  This is the big picture visionary, the prophet who sees where things are going and where things need to go.  It's arguably part of the preaching itch--you want to tell everyone what they need to be, what's wrong with society, etc.  The problem is that, in my experience, very few people really are gifted strategic leaders.

On the other end of the spectrum are what Bob calls operational leaders.  These are people who are good with accomplishing specific tasks and overcoming specific problems.  These people because they get things done.  Gibbs calls them "foremen."  The military image Bob created in my mind is that of a sergeant who can lead a small cadre of troops up a hill.  In a church, I have the picture of a person who can lead a group on a Habitat day or who organizes a pot-luck.

The big gap is what the military calls "tactical leaders."  These are the administrators who can organize the specific operations needed to achieve strategic goals.  These are detailed, precise people who aren't always the life of the party, but they know how to get from point A to point B.  Without them, dreams evaporate and goals aren't reached.

Bob's advice for bringing about change in your church, university, or organization?  Get your tactical leaders in place before you launch your new vision.


Keith Drury said...

Helpful post. My takes is the tactical leaders worry about winning a battle… strategic leaders worry about winning the war... thus focus on which battles to engage in. But I am reminded this morning that neither type leader can get an organization anywhere without followers... It is the followers who ratify or reject strategic or tactical leaders. Followers can simply roll their eyes when their strategic leader flips their flipchart or clicks their PowerPoint show and freeze out their latest long range plan. And followers can even stonewall a tactical leaders—or more likely “frag” them so they shout “charge” and find themselves charging up the hill alone. There are no leaders without following--so an even greater skill than strategic or tactical thinking is the ability of rallying followers, since a person who imagines themselves to be a leader whose followers don't follow is merely taking a walk. This is why I suspect the growing edge of leadership studies will focus more on followership.

Scott F said...

This is why I never miss your blog, Ken. You are always pushing yourself to strip away the extraneous and understand the essentials. Our church has a gifted minister who seems to possess the strategic vision and the operational skills but lacks the tactical leadership to pull it together. Hopefully we can find the right associate minister or gifted layperson to plug in and make this thing work.

Getting the followership going is a whole 'nother can-of-worms!

Ken Schenck said...

i was thinking about your Strategetics work yesterday from the seventies. How appropriate that leadership be taught via proverbs and parables. If I were an expert, I'd write a book on leadership like that ;-)

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Scott... obviously I like to talk. Glad to know every once and a while something interesting to me is helpful to someone else ;-)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Good thoughts, Keith.

Tactical leaders don't just have to be interested in the vision, but respect and be respected. That is a "hard sell", when things are already "stratigically planned" without informing the tactical leader...and doing so "late" only re-emphasizes pre-determination.

"Middle management" is not a comfortable position, as it doesn't give one rights on either side of the spectrum; decision-making, or the benefits of following a good vision...only responsibility. And since all of us are (and should be) self-interested, negotiating benefits is what a healthy business model would require.

I have seen and experienced those that talk the "talk" of leadership, but don't understand mutuality or respect. Theirs is a position driven, militaristic "top down" approach to leadership. It is called "tyranny" in American terms, because we don't believe in dictatorships. Choose leaders wisely, whether one is an individual, or organziation, otherwise, you suffer under "bad reprecussions".

Enmeshed identity are not healthy identities. The organization becomes one's identity, leaving little resistance/critical thinking or "other purposes" outside the organization. Identification with an organization/corporation is what drives "success" and has made our country prosperous, but at other 'costs". Groups are known to do "evil" in the name of "the good", so liberal democracies allow for "individuation". Evil happens as a result of "Deindividuation"...and it is useful for manipulative purposes...not self-chosen ones.

Scott F said...


Many is the time I have bemoaned the disappearance of that noble and misunderstood beast, the Manager.

Indeed "Middle Management" is a dead art from what I see in the corporate world. What we would have called a "manager" 20 years ago has been replaced with a "team lead" who is expected to produce work, hire, manage workers and direct production. Unfortunately these team leads are invariably selected for their competence in the first of these areas and hence all other areas go wanting.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"Wars" are the "stuff" that underwrites the principles that aren't to be changed or challenged, such as our Constitution, or the "rule of law", without conflict on a "global scale". (religious people like to define 'War" on Tradition or a Text). Therefore, the military have to deal with strategy in determining how to defend against our enemies.

@ Scott, team leaders vs. managers is just a matter of terminology. The question is; should an organization be of ultimate importance? Well, it should if it has to do with boundaries that protect all of us...without protecting liberty, we undermine everything that Ameria "stands for"....

I responded to tactical leadership, because "battles" are what our culture wars are about. Strategic leaders are what define politial platforms, and policy decisions....We can't win without a unified vision against those that would undermine our liberties....protected by our laws...

JRS said...

A couple of thoughts:

Most people under estimate the ability of a few people to sabotage an organization.

Congregational governance has a tendency to make everyone thing they are in charge, but not responsible.