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Critical Stages of Leading People

Jesus was and is the Master of leading people. One of the most powerful things I have observed in His example is the stages He goes through, overtime, with the people He is leading and developing. The way Jesus handles leadership at the beginning of His interaction with a person or group is different from His style and methods later on.  There is something sacred and necessary within the stages Jesus goes through that make His leadership successful. In fact, when followed, these stages do well at preventing us from microwaving leaders or bottlenecking them; both are which are not healthy.

Stage One: Directive

Mark 1:15-20  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news! 16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

This passages marks the beginning of Jesus’ leadership of the disciples. Notice, Jesus is directive, not democratic. He doesn’t begin with consensus-style leadership nor does He call for a vote on His teaching of the Kingdom or try to get these fisherman to agree with His strategy and tactics.

Jesus simple says, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men”

Leaders must have and understand their God-given authority and the need to be directive at certain stages of leadership. Jesus didn’t poll the disciples and ask, “O.k. guys, what kind of people do you want to become and what do you think we ought to do together?” Rather, Jesus came with vision and a sure sense of direction. He didn’t ask the disciples to give Him vision, He asked them to give Him their followship.

In the beginning of leading people, the directive stage of leadership is critical both for the leader and the follower.  It prevents the leader from the early stage temptations of morphing into a managing people pleaser, political player, or an insecure, indecisive gatherer. Yet, it also helps the follower to not overestimate their readiness for the journey, become arrogant, assume false expectations, or develop their own personal preferences and agenda.

Jesus knew, at this stage, giving clear, decisive direction was in the best interest of all involved. He wasn’t interested in managing their lives, He was interested in leading them.

As the common saying goes, “Managers do things right, while leaders do the right thing.”

When we start on a new trail in pursuit of a God-vision, we need a strong confident leader to show us the way.  There will be a time for consensus building, for gathering and listening to opinions from those that follow, but that time is not best placed at the beginning stages.

Stage One dynamics…

The Follower has : High enthusiasm, high confidence, low experience, low competence

The Leader gives: High direction, high example, low consensus, low explanation


Stage Two: Visionary Coach

Luke 12:32-34“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus, in this stage, adapts His style into more of a coaching style. He increases His time with the disciples in order to help them work through their developing insecurities and fears.

Leaders do well to help their followers go through the doubts and insecurities that occur as one pursues anything of God. Growing in relationship with Him and leadership capacity within His Kingdom is not always pleasant nor easy.  People are often excited at first about moving forward with you and God, but soon they realize there are challenges, internally and externally. It is during this time that a leader must help their followers along, knowing that some may choose to abandon ship and go back to the bliss of stage one with someone or something else.

Continually coming back to the vision and articulating it is critical at this stage.  Vision helps us see where we are going when we can’t see it for ourselves and those we lead. Vision is what reminds us of our calling and keeps our eyes on the prize. Vision is what rekindles the flames of our hearts and brings us back to centering on Jesus and His purposes and plans.

Helping followers understand that what God has called us to become and do is impossible apart from Him is a key accomplishment in this stage.  Vision is what enables our souls to expand with increasing room for faith.  Without leading people to develop their faith and character, the potential of what God has and can do with them will never be reached.  A coaching style enables a continuation of the directive style of stage one while adding a dimension of developing responsibility and personal growth for the follower, and developed trust levels between the follower and the leader.

Stage Two dynamics…

The Follower has: Low enthusiasm, low confidence, low experience, low competence

The Leader gives: High direction, high discussion, high example, high accessibility


Stage Three: Coaching / Pastoral / Team

John 15:12-17  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

This is the stage where Jesus starts to shift to a “You do it, and I will help and watch” style and strategy of leadership.  Over time, the followers have demonstrated increasing levels of loyalty, shared vision, competency and spiritual growth and are now ready to be given new levels of responsibility and intimacy.  Their relationship with Jesus has been strengthened, and now it’s time for more of a team approach as Jesus opens the door to input, ideas, and consensus building.

It is during this stage that Jesus begins to introduce the idea that one day, Jesus will be much more distant from them. This is a kind of pre-commissioning stage.

The major challenges of this stage is to ensure that the vision has been passed off to your followers through tests as you give them increasing levels of responsibility, decision making, and influence with you.  At this level, the leader needs to learn the art of watching without being noticed so as to create an environment where risk is minimized while testing the follower for readiness for increasing levels of leadership.

It is tempting for leaders to rush this stage, so it’s important to remember it essentially took Jesus three years to get to stage four.  As in a relay race, the passing of the baton is highly practiced, carefully timed, clearly communicated, and very critical.  A bad transition can undo months of hard work.

Leaders do well to help the follower understand the expectations and pacing of this transition period so as to be in continual communication and connection with the process.

Stage Three dynamics…

The Follower has: Increasing enthusiasm, growing experience, intermittent confidence, growing competence

The Leader gives: Lower direction, higher consensus, high discussion, high accessibility


Stage Four:  Vision Reproduction / Delegated Authority

Matthew 28:18-20  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus is preparing the disciples to spend less time with Him. He is reducing their hours of contact with Him because He is now delegating authority.  They are now becoming extension and representatives of Him.  Jesus has moved them from “Come follow me” to “Go be Me, stay true to the vision, and do what I taught you to do!”

When the leader sees the individual or team is highly competent, spiritual developed, loyal, trustable, and deeply shares the vision, it is time for delegating authority and responsibility at higher levels.  It’s not about perfection, but it is about progress.  To be highly directive and restrictive when the follower is ready for delegation is to squelch the potential and work of God in and through the follower.

Delegating before stage four at high levels is a recipe for disaster.  The follower may think they are ready for it, but until they have completely gone through stages 1-3, they are not.

At this stage, the closeness with the leader and follower remains, but it is not defined by the amount of time together, but rather the openness, loyalty, and shared vision they have with one another.

Stages of delegation:

1-    I do, you watch

2-    I do, you help

3-    You do, I help

4-    You do, I watch

Stage Four dynamics… 

The Follower has: High enthusiasm, high confidence, high experience, high competence

The Leader gives: Clear but lower direction, high consensus, clear but lower example, high explanation