Two models of leadership

I'm sure there are more than two models of leadership. But in the past week or so, two models keep coming up around me in conversations. And I find myself being drawn to each of them.

The Genius with a Thousand Helpers


Jim Collins describes this model of leadership in his book Good to Great. And the title gives you a pretty good picture of what leadership looks like in this model.

The Genius knows exactly what needs to be done and issues orders to the Helpers. The Helpers do tasks and execute the Genius' plans. This model of leadership works to free "the leader" from menial tasks to focus on what's most important for the organization/mission/vision.

The Genius with a Thousand Helpers is remarkable in its efficiency. Everything comes from one mind and, if the Genius is actually a genius, everything runs smoothly. This sounds so attractive.

But it's hard to picture the Genius washing the feet of those Helpers.

The Servant Leader


Robert Greenleaf wrote about this model of leadership in his essay "The Servant as Leader." The core identity of the leader is that of a servant. The Servant Leader is a servant before he or she is a leader. Leadership emerges as a means of service.

In this model, the leader looks for opportunities to serve. The menial work, the dirty work, the grinding work gets done by the leader to free up the rest of the organization to pursue their shared mission.

This model of leadership is particularly meaningful in organizations where most of the folks who are engaged in the work are volunteers (for ex. churches and campus ministries). Leaders who only leave grunt work for volunteers often struggle to motivate and retain volunteers. Taking care of admin, purchasing and the like can free up volunteers to do life-giving work that attracted them to the mission in the first place.

Choosing a style


I'm so frequently tempted to throw the Genius with a Thousand Helpers model into the trash can. But there are times when this model is best for the mission and organization. As I've been thinking about it recently, I think that it would be fair to say that the default model of the Christian leader is The Servant Leader and that the Genius with a Thousand Helpers model occasionally comes into play on the short-term in order to serve the people you've been called to serve.

What do you think about these models?

1 comment:

  1. Great post Steve. Thanks for the resource sharing, I'll need to read those. I like both models but feel like they are incomplete in most circles because they are kept too simple and without thought to the people in the room. I like to think that I use both models at the same time when possible. I invite many people to participate at all levels of service and leadership with the hope that I will free them up to be the best they can be.
    Is either of these a default model for Christian leaders? I think in my experience it is neither, leaders want to hold on to the power and influence and then don't know how to ask for help for menial task or bigger pieces.

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