Leading ‘High’ and Leading ‘Low’- How Leaders Get This Right

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“It’s a leader’s job to know what must be done, and to be right about it most of the time.”

At the 2015 Global Leadership Summit, noted author and speaker Jim Collins provided that superb definition of the leader’s role.

So, if a leader is supposed to know what must be done, and be right most of the time, why do leaders sometimes get it wrong?

Well, according to Bill Hybels, sometimes it’s because the “vision/implementation” balance is out of whack.

Jim Collins Summit


Hybels followed up on Collin’s talk during a recent Defining Moments session, where he pointed out that leaders need to balance the tension between leading from a high level, establishing the organization’s vision and values, and leading at a low level, focusing on implementation.

I lived in that tension several years ago, during a season of high-stakes change.

At that time I was leading the WCA’s Canadian affiliate ministry, and a survey of leaders revealed that many people wanted us to shift the dates of the Global Leadership Summit from its traditional August timeframe and into the Fall.

For several months I remained at the 30,000 foot leadership level, conducting additional research and consulting with many key stake holders.

Now, while such diligence is important, I would come to realize that I was hovering up at that high level for a dangerously long period of time. At some point I needed to get my hands dirty, work with our team to make a decision, and then get about the business of implementation.

As a footnote to this story, Willow Creek Canada eventually landed on offering the GLS on two dates at various locations; some in August, and others in the Fall. And the GLS has never been more robust in Canada than it is today.

But the point is, had I remained at the 30,000 foot leadership level for much longer I could have easily landed on the wrong side of this one.

And, as Jim Collins pointed out, as a leader you simply must get these things right, most of the time.

As you think of your own leadership, here are a few self-assessment questions to help you navigate this tension:

  • Is your natural tendency to lead at a 30,000 foot ‘vision and values’ level, or at an on-the-ground implementation level?
  • What are some of the consequences you have observed in your leadership when you have stayed at that level for too long?
  • What are some practical ways you can ensure that you do not lead at that level for too long?

If you can learn to strike the right balance, you’ll find that you’ll end up making the right call more often than not.

And as Jim Collins reminded us, ultimately that is what leadership is all about.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Vice President- International, Global Leadership Network. Love Jesus, Nora, Adam & Robin, Amy, Dave, Willow & Olive and John, Fiona & Will. Lifelong learner.

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