John Ewart on the Hourglass of Leadership

Have you ever been in a situation where decisions and the ability to move forward were stifled because there was a bottleneck somewhere in the leadership process? It can be extremely frustrating, especially when you are the one causing the problem!

Years ago, I had an experienced leader teach me about what he called the “hourglass of leadership.” Perhaps you will find some aspect of this helpful. I have referred to it often.

Think about the shape of an hourglass. Wide at the top and bottom with a very narrow middle. That middle part is very strategic. It is designed to allow only a certain amount of sand to sift through thus creating the timing mechanism. If the gap is too wide, the sand moves too quickly and the timing is off. If the gap is too narrow, the sand is blocked from making progress and the instrument becomes useless. That small gap actually makes certain the hourglass fulfills its designed purpose.

Leadership can be described as that gap. Good leaders help determine pace and timing. Effective leaders maintain the connection to the designed purpose. When leadership is too wide open, unfocused and inattentive, there is often no calibration. In church life that can result in a bumper car mentality (see previous posts) with ministries all doing their own things. They have little to no connection to a greater, designed purpose. Resources and efforts are going off in a million directions, competing with one another and very little progress is really ever accomplished.

If leadership is too tightly controlling, however, it can lead to a halt of movement, a stifling of creativity and lack of progress as well. Leaders who have to be in every meeting and personally make every decision can hurt and even stop growth no matter how brilliant and talented they are. They create a bottleneck of micromanagement which inevitably becomes frustrating for everyone involved, including them!

There is a needed balance of uniformity and release in church leadership. This proper balance of uniformity, creativity and delegation can create an environment in which healthy scalability can occur. In other words, if everyone is on the same page, actually understands what that page is, why it is important to all be on that page and then is allowed some flexibility to create on that page, you can create a climate of uniform vision and be in a positive position for healthy growth.

Leadership must bring ministry leaders together in a united vision designed to fulfill a biblical mission. They must lead others to participate in building a train that is hooked together, moving down a single track in synergy as compared to riding around on the bumper cars. This takes time and a certain pace that can often be very contextual. Like sand properly sifting through an hourglass. If the attempt is made to change them too suddenly, there is often rebellion. It is similar to a child that have never been told “No” and suddenly is disciplined. It can lead to conflict.

But once that vision page is drawn together and everyone is on board, leadership must also release responsibilities in delegated trust with accountability back to the ministries in order to see the base grow and extend. If you do not, you will create a backlog of decisions and lack of action. You will soon be stuck and plateau can occur. Eventually, you will forget to make certain decisions in a timely fashion because they all rest on your shoulders and you will create even more confusion about the vision and mission.

So think about the hourglass. What is the proper vision and timing for this place and these people to fulfill God’s mission? How can I bring them together in unity and them let them go in ministry?