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11 May '12

Leaders as moving targets

Posted by T.J. Addington in leadership styles
One of the most frustrating genre of leaders to work for are those who move at the speed of lightning, have a plethora of ideas, are on to something new regularly and are idea people who often want their staff to deliver on those many ideas. In short they are moving targets that rarely get pinned down.


Moving target leaders create a lot of chaos for their staff. They are hard to keep up with, are rarely on a consistent course and therefore create uncertainty, lots of extra work and consternation of staff. 


This is why staff turnover for these leaders is generally high and the more capable the staff member the more likely it is that they will leave after a short tenure since constant change is an unempowering and uncertain culture in which to work. 


By their very nature, leaders who move at the speed of light rarely are able to empower other significantly because they are constantly determining the direction themselves. Issues like planning, annual plans and consistent budgets are tough since things change regularly. It can be crazy making for staff.


The challenge is that moving target leaders often can get an organization to a certain size by their sheer energy. And as the ministry grows, the challenge of keeping it moving in an consistent direction increases. As do the staff challenges.


This type of leadership can work in the early entrepreneurial ministry start up stage. However, at some point, unless the leader can transition to a true organizational leader rather than an individual producer who kicks up a lot of dust, the organization starts to suffer, staff get weary and boards become concerned. 


If you are a moving target leader or a board member for one and the organization is at a size and place where it needs more stability what do you do?


One option is to get executive coaching for the leader to help them transition to a more stable leadership culture. In my experience about 50% of of moving target leaders can make the transition with a lot of work and coaching. But they must truly want to make the changes necessary and it is not easy.


Another option is to hire a COO for the ministry who is the buffer between the moving target leader and the rest of the staff. This can work with a lot of negotiation and will on behalf of both parties but it will remain a constant challenge for the CEO and the COO.


Another approach is to suggest to the moving target leader that the organization needs a different kind of leadership style at this stage of their existence and that they need to make a transition. This often takes the leader by surprise because they are rarely tuned into the chaos that they create by their leadership style. However, boards that see the chaos and dysfunction on staff will sometimes make the call for the leader. They may not even recognize the true reason for their discomfort but they know that the organization is weary of the constant flow of new ideas and directions.


A final approach is to recognize that this is the way it will be and live with the chaos and uncertainty. This will generally mean significant staff turn over and good leaders who will choose not to serve on the board or staff for long. 


Small entrepreneurial ministries can live with leaders who are moving targets. The larger the ministry grows, however, the more problematic it becomes.