Being stretched too thin?

First published 18th April 2013

The last 3 or 4 months have been exceptionally busy. As well as doing my own job, I have also been helping to cover the job of a colleague who was away for nearly 3 months on paternity leave.

And then just as he returned to work to pick up his reins, my Right Hand Manbecame unwell so that I had to pick up some of his work as well as adjust to doing my job on my own - it's surprising how bereft one feels when working on one's own when used to working closely with someone else.

Leadership roles are often about increasing one's span of control (or span of influence depending on the kind of role one has) beyond the point of being able to do everything oneself. The Chief Executive of the bank I used to work for had a span of control which encompassed 20 or 30 different business units, more than 80,000 people across 500+ locations around the world. Our Bishops have a span of control covering 150+ paid staff, 1,000+ volunteers, across 100+ locations in the diocese. The leader of the average church has a span over maybe 2 or 3 paid staff and 30+ volunteers.

As the span increases, the depth of interaction with each person / situation decreases until eventually the leader is spread so thinly that they can spare only a glance at situations which most of use would quail at.

Some people are good at managing this spreading of control/influence and some are not. It is a wise human being who can look at a request to spread themselves more thinly and says 'that is not for me', even though it feels like a great honour to be asked to be the leader across a larger enterprise. Increasing span means less opportunity for reflection - which is partly why I haven't blogged for a while - requiring an approach to management which is more about reaction than thoughtful response. Large spans result in far less 'strategy' and more 'tactics', less engagement with individual people's lives and more 'crowd management'. This is not to denigrate the role of the 'Chief Executive' leader but it needs to be noted that not everyone is going to be temperamentally suited to that kind of role and should think very carefully about being promoted out of their 'sweet spot'.

It should also give us pause to think about the value of creating space for the creative minds to think and the pastoral hearts to engage. Too often we allow, even encourage, good people to fill their lives with doing stuff, crowding out the activities which are often less visible but have a much greater impact in the longer term. Jesus did preach to the crowds but how many people in those crowds had their lives fundamentally transformed in the same way that the men and women who travelled with him did, those who spent long hours in quiet teaching and contemplation with him? Our value as leaders should never be assessed by how wide a span of control or influence we have but by how we transform the lives around us, how deeply we impact the space we inhabit rather than how big an area we can superficially touch.

Powered by Church Edit