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3 Ways to Helpfully Lead First Chair Leaders

In my post 7 Ways to Attract First Chair Leaders to a Second Chair Position I presented thoughts on keeping a leader who could be the first chair leader (or someday wants to be) in the second chair position. I received good feedback from the post, but some questions, so I decided to write more thoughts on the topic.

I’m still working on a post to identify first chair leaders. I’ve been attempting to do that throughout my leadership career, but haven’t spent much time putting in writing what I have observed. Stay tuned.

Recently, however, I was in a meeting discussing this issue and a specific question was asked I felt I could address now.

A leader asked, “How do I help first chair leaders?”

This team has several first chair leaders, and this seasoned leader is wondering how to best help — and ultimately lead — other seasoned leaders. In a strictly organizational structure or reporting sense, this leader supervises other first chair type leaders, but the reality is, and he readily admitted, they have equal or more experience than this leader has in the area they are assigned to lead. They have a certain expertise in areas they lead this leader doesn’t have. And, many times, he feels they could lead without him in the picture. Yet, this leader is supposed to supervise — lead — them. (That is, by the way, a great start in being a humble, servant leader — recognizing they could do it without you.)

How does he do that in a helpful way?

Great question.

This is not an exhaustive or detailed list. I deal more in principles with this blog, because specifics are harder to answer for each context. And, my previous post shared some other, broader ways. This was the answer that came to my mind at the time. And, it seemed helpful.

Hopefully, if nothing else, it helps shape a thought process. I went to a board and drew out an attempted suggestion of how to lead first chair leaders. (See the picture with this post.)

Do you want to help the first chair leaders you supervise?

Help the first chair leader you supervise draw lines.

That’s right. Draw lines.

Then help them grow within the lines.

Here’s what I mean. Or, at least, I will attempt to share what I mean.

Help them define their purpose. (Represented by the two red lines in the picture.)

These lines represent the scope of what the first chair leader has been assigned to do. They’ve been asked to lead small group ministry, for example. Or, they’ve been asked to lead a missions ministry. Whatever it is they’ve been asked to accomplish, help them draw lines around that assignment — some boundaries if you will — a defined objective. If they are to be successful in what they’ve been asked to do, what would that look like?

Help them realize success. (Represented by the green arrows.)

Help them write clear goals and objectives. Share resources with them. Ask questions to stir their thought process. Give them assistance where needed or requested. Be a consistent cheerleader. Empower them. Don’t control. (See previous post.) Get out of the way when you’re in the way and get in the middle of things when you’re needed and requested to be there. Remember, these are first chair leaders. They can likely handle this without a lot of supervision, but your position, authority and experience may be extremely helpful at times. Be available when needed. Also, you may have to provide accountability at times and be their coach. And, if absolutely needed, you may need to be the hard voice in their life to help them stay on track towards success.

Help them protect the lines. (Represented by a blue “X”.)

There will always be interruptions — competing ideas and agendas — for a person’s time. As a leader of first chair leaders, you can help keep them within the predetermined lines. You can help protect the influences outside the lines. When they are asked to do something that doesn’t line up with the goals and objectives agreed upon, you can defend their right to say no. Of course, we all have to handle interruptions at times and do things we hadn’t “planned” to do, but you can help them discern when to step outside the lines.

Does that help? What other questions does it generate for you?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • kmac4him

    What happens when you are the second chair leader with the experience and wisdom and the person put over you is not seasoned and is threatened by you and starts dogging your every move with negative assumptions and micromanaging you from the position of authority that is tainted by all the dysfunction of comparison. How do you deal with that so you both can "grow together" and get past it AND keep team unity?

    • ronedmondson says:

      That's tough. It really depends on a couple things in my opinion. Is the person open to change? Or will they always be this way? If they always will that way then you have a few choices. You can stay and live with it, have a hard conversation or leave. If they will change, then you have to learn to lead up or have the hard conversation they need to hear. Praying for you.