The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position

There is a fine line of when to jump into the leading position.

I work with lots of young leaders. And, they ask the question a lot of whether I think they are ready to be in a lead position. And, I want to be helpful.

Don’t misunderstand – most of these people are leaders now – they are usually leading some area of ministry, but they aren’t in the “leading position”. They aren’t yet the senior leader – but they believe they want to be someday.

I frequently get asked when is the right time to make the jump.

I wish I knew the magical answer. I don’t. I do believe you can jump too soon. I also believer you can wait too long.

You can jump before you’re ready. I’ve seen some leaders make the switch to senior leader only to find out they wish they had prepared a little longer. Some then go back under another senior leader. And, sadly, I’ve seen some completely crash and burn – and take years to recover. Some never go back to the lead position.

I’ve seen others wait long after they were ready. They missed opportunities in leadership and, in the process, they frustrated everyone, including themselves, because they didn’t make the move. Staying anywhere too long can cause frustration to a team – and the one who stays.

It’s a fine line – or a quadrant of the circle – as the case may be in our diagram.

So, my advice, for the leader wondering when to make the jump to senior leadership is pretty simple. When you’ve lived in the tension for too long – it’s time to jump.

What’s the tension? Well, I believe you’ll know it when you’re living it. It is probably why you would read a post like this, but let me give some symptoms.

Here are a 7 ways to tell the tension has gone long enough:

When the urge to try is greater than the fear of jumping.

When you’ve maxed out where you currently are in growth opportunities. And, it frustrates you nearly everyday.

When you find yourself questioning senior leadership – all senior leadership – good or bad leadership – because you think you could do it better.

When you think more about what could be if you were in the leading position than what could be if you stay in the learning position.

When you believe in your heart you’ve been called to lead at the senior level.

When those who know you best think you’re ready. Don’t be afraid to ask.

When senior leadership positions continue to make themselves available or come to your attention. (Is someone trying to tell you something?)

This post is intended to help process a question I’m frequently asked. Please understand, these are just my thoughts. Also, when you are in the season of sensing you are ready, never be arrogant, flippant or act like you know it all. You don’t. You will have to trust me with this one. I will write more about what to do in this season in my next post.

We should always learn all we can, but, the fact is, you may not know until you try. Most of what you learn will come when you are actually doing the job. When you are finally ready, and you make the jump to senior leadership, that’s when the learning really begins to take place. On-the-job training is the best kind.

But, preparing for the big jump is critically important also. Don’t rush the next step because of impatience. Just as you can’t go back to high school or that first attempt at college – it will never be quite the same after you make the jump.

This is why it’s a fine line – hence the tension.

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13 thoughts on “The Tension Between Staying in a Learning Position and Jumping into the Lead Position

  1. This is definitely #1 thing I get asked by young leaders! I know this idea and concept of time is hard for us to wrestle with it especially when it pertains to our dreams and callings, but I try to reassure young leaders time is foreign to God. God doesn't think in the framework of time like we do, but He does see things in the framework of perfect timing. We live in a culture that tells young people to pick their forever career at 18 or 20 because they are about to spend a small fortune on education and they don't even fully know who they are yet. Is it so bad to spend your twenties learning, developing as a leader, being mentored, and growing in your relationship with God? The pressure to jump into your career as a senior leader sooner than later is not put on us by God only society. Think about how much young people could accelerate their dreams if they spent the time to develop Godly character and values?
    A Really Great Post Ron!

  2. I think your venn diagram captures a truth. When people stop learning, they tend to become leaders/politicians. 🙂 Those people who think and lead are rare. They create tension and are often persecuted for it.

    • Thanks. I wasn't illustrating that intentionally and that would not line up with the rest of the teaching on this blog, but the point is well taken. 
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  3. Great post, and a good way to describe the tension. Have you considered a post about when those in the current leading position don’t want those in the learning position to transition to a leading position? I would love to hear your thoughts on that. Also how does one manage the tension well until the transition takes place?

    • Those are great questions. Yea, I'd have to think how to expand on the first question, but I know it's real.I'd say to manage the tension — quick response:1. Get a mentor2. Set a tentative timeline in your mind. (Don't bind yourself to this, because life happens and God is in control, but it gives you a hope and perspective.)3. Take steps to prepare for what's next. (Learn all you can, map out your mission, how you would do things, build network, etc.)4. Stay very loyal and faithful to the job you have. (That's fair and protects your resume and character.)May blog about that later.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

    • Agreed Brian. I was going to ask a similar question.

      The presumption with all the "When"s is that the people involved and the environment is healthy.

      Ron has written excellent articles about unhealthy people and situations…