The Responsibilities of the Led

kinnon —  August 12, 2005 — 7 Comments

TitanicPicture this. You’re on the bridge of the Titanic. You’re a junior officer on this “unsinkable” ship. Up ahead you see an iceberg. But a very  experienced senior officer is in control of the bridge. What do you do? Well since we’ve all seen the movie, you’d tell the senior officer, wouldn’t you. In the loudest voice possible. Magna voce. “ICEBERG!!!!!!

Fast forward to the next century. You’re involved in a significant organization. Up ahead you see a huge problem – one that could derail the organization. But you’re not the senior leader. And that leader does not like to be questioned. Now what do you do? Remember, you’ve seen the movie. The Titanic sinks.

Sadly, most of us would do nothing. We’d rather take a chance that hitting the iceberg will only be a glancing blow, (like the Monty Python character who insists, “I’m not dead yet!”), than confront the leader with the truth. After all, you might get yelled at, passed over for a promotion – or even lose your job. (Look at the impact on far too many lives because most employees refused to confront the leadership issues of Enron, MCI, Tyco et al.)

This becomes particularly interesting in the church. How do we confront the one leading? How do we quietly say, “Umm, excuse me, ICEBERG!”

“Shouldn’t we just let God deal with it?”
“How? Like He did with Ananias and Sapphira? A little direct intervention.”

We are the Body of Christ – His hands, feet, eyes, ears and yes, even mouth.  Our role is to speak the truth in love –  to speak the truth!

I quoted from Tom Lutz’s post on Servant Leadership yesterday. Tom recommends an exit strategy if the “gentle” confrontation doesn’t work. That would be prudent.

It sounds like a copout, but sometimes you will be better served by contributing your talents to another organization that builds people up rather than uses them up. It is the bottom line in any negotiation…the BATNA or the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. This strategy is used all the time when we buy a car in the traditional adversarial bargaining style. You have to be ready to walk.

Most leaders respect candor and criticism…if it is given appropriately and in a spirit of cooperation. Good leaders know that the single most frequent reason for employees leaving organizations is unresolved conflict. To willfully foster turnover of a productive employee adds to the cost structure of their organization and is not good business. Good leaders will listen and try to change. But just in case you have a boss that doesn’t see work life in such an informed manner, be ready to leave.

The question you need to ask yourself is, “Do you really want to go down with the ship – or do you want to make an effort to save it and the people on it ?”  Even if you are not successful, you will at least have made the attempt. And how do you know that your effort may not be the second to last straw – you prepare the way for someone else’s success at averting disaster.

The responsibilities of the led are significant. We choose to accept or reject those responsibilities to the benefit or peril of the organization. Choose wisely.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

7 responses to The Responsibilities of the Led

  1. The old Titanic syndrome is alive and well in the church. As one who finds himself sailing in unfamiliar waters from time-to-time, good leadership requires that the leader be willing to hear bad news from those who join him/her at the helm of the boat. If the truthteller does truth-telling in a spirit of humility and with a desire for the ultimate benefit of the organization, what good leader wouldn’t pay attention? The problem is many truth-tellers don’t always tell the truth with such motives, and many leaders prefer to see clear sailing even when the big white thing on the horizon is getting closer.

  2. Indeed. The motivation of the “truth teller” is critical. A servant wants to protect those whom they serve. A hireling is only interested in protecting their wage. The question we need to ask is – what’s our motivation?
    Thanks for the comment Brad. Your experience and insight are always welcome! And your posts at on the “Call” have been very interesting. As always, you’re a must read.


  3. Thanks for a great blog!

    The model “leader – led” is not compatible with biblical values – although we all are teached to believe that. Yes, I know it is inseparable with the “corporate church” paradigm – but that is not biblical, either. Among many things it lacks the dynamism you speak about in this post. The church is waiting for a new groundshaking reformation. It has just begun.

    “Set my people free”.

  4. Are,
    Thanks for the comment. I do agree with you that the “corporate model” is, by and large, incompatible with church structure and leadership. Dr. Alan Roxburgh of the Missional Leadership Institute makes some strong points about that in a recent newsletter article about the Emerging Church. My post, link to links to that.

    You might also be interested in the Church Leadership Myths posts I did early this summer:
    link to

    Bill Kinnon
    achievable ends

  5. Bill,
    Thank you for a nice reply. The link to Alan Roxburghs newsletter of June 2005 was very useful. I will spread that in my network.

    Your post about leadership was also interesting. I find the term “corporate church” very interesting, but I think the phenomenon is not new. I think the church became “corporate” already in 313 AD, when it get connected to the Roman state and copied its structure. Our Scandinavian revival movements of the 19th and 20th century had an emphasis of the priesthood of the believers (as I think the american also had), but that emphasis has faded strongly, and those movements have now grown into corporate churches.

    I find the EC movement in spite of shortcomings very exciting.

  6. Bill, this is an important topic that needs more exploration, more discussion.
    I for one don’t think this is a product of the “corporate” structure of the church. This is a problem of human dimensions. There are people in larger churches and small who are leaders who do not listen to the people who follow.
    Church structures are tools, systems for facilitating the work and communication of people to acheive certain shared goals. If the leader leads as a dictator, then it isn’t because of the structure. It is because he has a dictatorial personality ( or his sinfulness has produced a morally and psychologically dysfunctional person), and it may find its “best” environment in a large, complex structure that begs for strong leadership. There are many examples of large corporate structures where the leader leads with the spirit of a servant. In the business world, I think this has best been described in Jim Collins’ book. Good to Great.
    Having spent twenty plus years involved in leadership development, I have determined that one of the failings that most leaders have, and it goes to personality, but also to many other reasons, is the failure to develop leaders. Expanding a church’s or a business’ leadership base is a key essential for an organization in the 21st century. This can only be done by giving away responsibility and authority. This requires a different kind of leader than an Imperial Ruler. But it doesn’t mean it can’t happen in either a small church or a multi-national corporation. In fact it is primarily happening where the stakes or outcome of their work together is not only clear but great, so that it requires a different approach that in the past.
    I address a similar situation in a blog posting here – link to . The dilemma here is that this woman has the capacity for leadership, but the leadership has not developed the structure to develop leaders, so that “underlings” see themselves as “employees” not as leaders or contributors. The woman I write about faces a similar situaiton that you write about Bill. My advice to her? “Activate your business and professional network of relations and see if some organization that would appreciate your leadership initiative and hire you.”
    Ultimately, this means that for all us we have to have a depth of moral character that is exhibited in courage, honesty and productive conflict. Leaders need to live with a sense of urgency that sends the message “I need you to be at your best so we don’t hit any icebergs.” This is why character is the ultimate determinate of leadership effectiveness. thanks Bill for the topic.

  7. The main problem is lack of dynamics. Our churches are static. Is it possible to imitate the dynamics of the first church, of revivals or of a persecuted church? Is this about the freedom Paul are speaking about? I don´t think Jesus called us to build religious systems wich costs enormous amounts of money and energy just to keep going.

    If so, you have to slim down. You have to simplify. You have to trust the Holy Spirit. And you have to change your mind: Do like Paul: It is more important and more effective to make dialogs than to make sermons. Our leaders have to abandon the pulpit. And the pulpit has to be torn down.


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