When Leaders Run By Themselves

leadership.jpgMy daughter Jamie ran track her first few years of high school.  On one occasion, she had a track meet at a nearby school.  At most track meets, I generally stood
against the fence around the track waiting for my daughter’s race.  This day would be no different.  I stood by the fence ready to watch the next race.  

time came for the 100-meter, varsity boys’ race.  The guys who ran this race were generally very fast.  The runners got in
their respective lanes.  The starter raised his hand with the pistol in
the air.  "On your mark, get set, go!"  One young man apparently jumped
too soon.  As soon as the gun fired, the starter then quickly fired
again — the signal for a false start.  When that happens, all of the
runners are supposed to stop and go back to their starting positions.

of them did return — except for one young runner in a maroon uniform.  He
continued running
.  I cringed with embarrassment for him.  I heard someone
say, "Oh no, he’s still running! How embarrassing!"  He ran by himself
the entire race, not realizing that he was the only one running.

Finally he raised his arms as he crossed the finish line, thinking that
he had won the race. He then turned around only to realize that no one
else had been running with him.  I can’t imagine how he must have felt.  The stands were full
of people.  About fourteen or fifteen schools were present at the meet that day.  Many people watched this kid run the race by himself.

Has this ever been you?  Do you, as a leader, ever feel like you are alone in your
race?  Life is a lifelong marathon.  The
goal is not speed but endurance.  We just want to finish and finish strong.  Yet, it
is awfully difficult to do this by yourself. 

Leadership can be a very lonely role.  Yet, sometimes, the issue may be more than loneliness.  We may have jumped the gun and so we find ourselves running — alone.  While leadership involves the individual and his or her commitments, values, and passions, it is more than a task to be done alone.  Leadership requires others.  Leading is more than being aware of where others are in the process.  It could be that you have jumped the gun, not realizing that others are not with you.

Leadership is more than telling people which way to go.  It is more than announcing, persuading, or even preaching to them.  Leadership involves working with people and bringing them along.  Leadership is influencing people for something good, honorable, and worthy.

As leaders, we want to finish and finish strong.  We lead because we believe the cause is great and the goal is worthy.  However, we were never meant to run by ourselves.  Life is
tough — at times leadership is extremely tough.  How encouraging it is to know
that you are not running alone.


And so …

1.  Leadership is not about being a "Lone Ranger."  To lead is not to run the race by yourself while others watch.

2.  Leadership is about working with people to move toward something that is good, honorable, and worthy.



What do you think?  Who are some of the best leaders you have known?  What made them good leaders?


(Be sure to read the two excellent articles by Michael Hyatt, "Leadership 2.0" and "Eight Things Leaders Can Learn from Symphony Conductors.")

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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10 thoughts on “When Leaders Run By Themselves

  1. Ah Yes, Leadership, an interesting subject. Let me expand on your theme of leading with no one following. Recently while in Las Vegas with some friends, my wife and I were walking and I turned and was taking a shortcut while the rest of the group went the long way around to the door we were looking for. I told my wife, "If only they would have just followed me, they would have not had to waste all this time" She said to me, "If you are leading and no one is following, you're just really taking a walk." The first one you lead is yourself. Then others.
    Jesus was the greatest leader. How did he get guys to follow him so easily? He led even though he was a servant. So much to learn from Him.
    Here's a question: How do you measure your leadership? How do you measure how effective you are as a leader? I have my own answers but that might be a great lead in to your next post.

    • Hi Tucker,
      Good comment and good story! Good questions as well. As a Christ-follower, I think that I am called to first be a good follower. Any measurement of my own effectiveness has to begin with my faithfulness to him as the one I follow. This faithfulness to Jesus impacts not only my thinking but my relationships, my commitments, ethics, etc. I think this is applicable regardless of my vocation in life, etc.

      In the context of a church, I think that leadership is seen in view of the church, not separate and isolated from others. How do I relate to this people? Is there a mutual respect in place? Am I leading solely out of position or am I leading as a person with a servant heart? There is something very attractive about a servant leader who again and again displays a willingness to serve in regardless of the cost.

      Good questions Tucker.

  2. I was going to mention Michael Hyatt and all that I have learned from reading his blog and following him on Twitter….

    The posts you mentioned of his are excellent, as is yours.

    Some people think that leadership is all about doing it yourself when it is actually about leading others to work together toward a mutually defined goal.

    Great picture of the single boy running while the others stayed behind. It's exactly what a lot of leaders do wrong.

    • Hi Peter,
      Thanks for your kind words regarding the post. I too have learned a great deal from reading Michael Hyatt, both his blog and twitter. More than anything, he has helped me thinkabout what I am doing and why I am doing it.

  3. Great article, Jim. You’ve identified one of the greatest challenges of spiritual leadership: to be far enough out front as to truly lead the way, but not to be so far out front as to seem out of reach.

  4. In my 30+ years of ministry within churches of Christ, I found leadership severely lacking within elderships. And I found far too many of the people in our fellowship simply did not want to be led, unless "leading" meant maintaining status quo. It was always very, very difficult for me to have any passion for leading people who simply (or seemingly) did not want to be led and to be held back by elders who did not want to lead and did not want anyone else to lead.

  5. Gregg– You have described so well the quandary in which many ministers (and many elders) find themselves. It is frustrating, to many ministers, to many elders (those who have no desire to simply preserve the status quo), and to many good people who simply want to be the people of God in their community.

    Thanks for expressing this so well.

  6. Jim – I have wondered if leadership can really be taught. Or if it is a spiritual gift that some have and others do not (ie. St. Paul's exhortation about gifts in 1 Cor. – some have gift of tongues, others not). There are some people who seem to be "natural born leaders" – others "can't lead their way out of a paper bag." And I wonder if, esp in the church, we do not set some folks up for failure, by placing them in leadership positions, when they are not gifted in such a way.
    Your thoughts??