How Leaders Move from the Engine Room to the Bridge

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You can’t steer a ship from the engine room.

Effective leaders know that their place is on the “bridge” of their organization, scanning the horizon and moving things forward. But they also know that it’s necessary and important to poke around the engine room from time to time.

Here’s the leadership question: How do you strike the right balance between bold, visionary leadership (the bridge) and paying The bridgeappropriate attention to your organization’s operations (the engine room)?

One way I’ve learned is to practice the daily leadership discipline of focusing on my purpose, not my job.

When I first joined this organization in 1997 I was given a somewhat vague responsibility called “marketing”. We were already heavily involved in initiatives such as catalogues and flyers, so in the early days I simply kept running those projects.

I was in the engine room.

But to get myself up onto the bridge I began to increasingly ask myself, “If my job is to get these catalogues and flyers done, what is my purpose?”

And then it hit me. My purpose was to connect church leaders with our ministry.

Once my focus shifted to that level everything changed. Now I was constantly scanning the horizon looking for ever more effective ways to connect church leaders to our ministry, always seeking innovative ways to add value to church leaders.

Our engine room was still humming along, producing catalogues and flyers. But increasingly I was on the bridge focused on the unique purpose my leadership was able to provide.

Today I try to keep the same approach. And I do so through a leadership discipline of asking myself these kinds of questions:

  • What unique value do I bring to the organization?
  • What of lasting value would not be achieved if I were not here?
  • Am I growing satisfied with wins of “efficiency” (the engine room) or
    of “effectiveness” (the bridge)
  • Do I have an increasingly clear picture of the future (the bridge) or am I gaining clarity only on how we function (the engine room)?

If you find yourself getting stuck in your organization’s engine room try wrestling with these questions. Over time you will see yourself increasingly scanning the horizon from where you belong; up on the bridge.

What questions would you add to this list?

the author

Scott Cochrane

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