When I owned a small manufacturing company I had to learn the language of the field. I obviously had heard the term bottleneck, but I never really understood it, or the damage it can be, until a bottleneck began to impact whether or not we were profitable as a company. When the bottom line of continuing to exist as a company depends on productivity being at its highest, and being the one ultimately responsible, you learn what the term means quickly. A bottleneck can be a really big deal.

I have also learned that the term bottleneck matters in the fiel of leadership. Leaders should aim to never be a bottleneck in the process of building a healthy and growing organization.

A bottleneck is defined as “A point of congestion in a system that occurs when workloads arrive at a given point more quickly than that point can handle them.” (Investopedica.com)

In traffic, the bottleneck is often one car that slows down every other car behind them. We all know the frustration in that scenario.

In an organizational sense, the bottleneck can many times be the leader. When this happens, progress stalls, growth is limited and people are frustrated.

Here are 7 bottlenecks a leader must avoid:

Every decision ultimately goes through the leader.

When the leader is the final lid of every decision it creates a culture where team members feel devalued – like their individual abilities are in question. In fact, it becomes less of a team and more of a group of employees. When everyone has to wait for the leader to make a decision precious time is wasted, productivity slows and frustration rises.

Other people’s ideas or opinions are ignored.

Team members want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, but they want to play a part in helping the vision become a reality. When their input isn’t welcomed they feel stifled, unfulfilled and unnecessary. The best leaders I know encourage people to take a risk. They create a “go for it” environment. When only the leader is allowed to “pull the trigger” or “push the first button” the organization faces a huge opportunity cost.

The leader is people-pleasing or change-resistant.

I realize I typed the previous sentence, but I’m not even sure those can go together. Leadership in its very definition involves change. Leaders are taking people somewhere new. You can’t get to new without change. That’s always uncomfortable to someone. When a leader is more concerned with keeping people happy, or protecting his or her position, than embracing needed change, everything stalls and team members become discouraged. A team will never be more open to change than is the leader.

There is no clear vision or information about the vision isn’t shared.

People flounder when they don’t know where things are going next or what is important to the leader. This bottleneck encourages laziness in some and apathy in others. Leaders who spur movement in an organization are quick with information. None of us in leadership can see very far down the road these days, but the best leaders are transparent and continually sharing what they can see as the future. If nothing else, the team is in the world of the unknown together.

The leader never delegates actual authority.

When the leader takes on unnecessary assignments, or gets in the weeds of details, the leader is overburdened and the team is underutilized. Both suffer in the long-term. Effective delegation isn’t giving people tasks. It’s giving people the oversight of real responsibility. It’s empowering people to think like owners.

Potential leaders aren’t developed – they are controlled.

Leaders are built through a recruit, invest and release process. Consider how Jesus led. He recruited the disciples, invested in them and then sent them out to do the work. When people are controlled they never develop. And, they learn to resent the leader.

The leader receives all the recognition.

This stalls growth, because team members feel used more than a part of something. People aren’t willing to risk everything for someone else to receive all the praise. The best teams aren’t doing what they do for individual credit, but everyone likes to feel appreciated for what they contributed to the team.

Leaders, ask yourself this question: In what ways am I being a bottleneck to my team?

If you aren’t certain, perhaps you should ask your team – even if you have to do so anonymously.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 22 Comments

  • […] Ron Edmondson is CEO of Leadership Network, former pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, and the planter of two churches. This article originally appeared on RonEdmondson.com. […]

  • Brian says:

    Whoa! Great article.
    I think we'll be adding a link to this in one of our upcoming workshops! Thanks.

  • […] 7 Characteristics of the Bottleneck Leader. Ron Edmondson writes “In an organization, the bottleneck is many times the leader. When this happens, progress stalls, growth is limited and people are frustrated.” […]

  • jack Given says:

    I wonder if "bottleneckitis" isn't a symptom of a larger problem or problems. Let me cite 2 possibilities: One is a lack of thanksgiving and two is a lack of trust in the plan and omnipotence of God. In many of the 7 characteristics, the bottleneck behavior seems to fail to recognize that God has provided resources and has gifted the human resources with abilities to enhance, support and encourage the ministry. Rather than stifle that giftedness and creativity, the leader's job is to nurture and develop it. BUT that kind of nurture requires a leader to thank God for everyone that God brings and to have faith that "God does work all things together for good. "

  • […] 7 Characteristics of the Bottleneck Leader—Ron Edmondson […]

  • davesmith112850 says:

    I feel as though as a leader, I am stuck in many of these traits. I would love wisdom in a followup post on how to overcome being a bottleneck leader!! Thanks for your help.

  • […] Ron Edmonson lists seven warning signs that a leader is going to be a bottleneck: […]

  • […] publish 7 Characteristics of the Bottleneck Leader appeared first on Ron […]

  • John Armstrong says:

    Great article, two thoughts struck me:
    "The leaders is change resistant" – Sometimes the opposite is also an issue. The leaders does so much change it becomes the bottleneck. Set a strategy and plan today, change it next week. Throwing out the new for newer puts the team in a position of doing nothing today because there will be newer tomorrow, becoming the bottleneck.

    "Only the leader can launch a new initiative" – This is a small variation, only the leader can think up the new stuff. Usually these leaders are very smart, so they are the only ones that have smart ideas. Consequently only their initiatives are launched.

  • Tanya says:

    Great article! Do you have a post on how to work under a bottleneck leader?

  • joe says:

    Bottleneck neck leaders are manipulative,

    Bottleneck leaders like people who say yes to his decision

    Bottleneck leaders try to control finance

    Bottlenect leaders never allow others to grow

  • Jackson says:

    Good stuff. Forward progress is about empowering others.
    Twitter: Manupstudygmail.com

  • I probably expressed stuff going on a little close to home…

  • It's tough as a creative for me (Y/Millennial generation) to have been working in this "traffic pattern." In a small organization, it may still work if the workload & amount of people is small enough for the one person to be able to control all the necessary decisions. It's like trying to wear the turtleneck you wore in 8th grade – it's still you inside, but because you've grown, it will choke you. People are going to get frustrated with the bottleneck.
    Three options: sit in traffic with everyone else (apathy), force your way through the bottleneck (disruption, accidents), or find a detour (may not end up at the right destination). I don't think that bottleneck is something of a godly character. It often seems to be ego/personality driven.
    I would add that there often lacks healthy accountability. (Prov 27:17)

  • •The leader always micro manages
    •The leader never realizes “ Penny wise pound foolish” principle
    •The leader is good at playing favorites

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