Trying to Lead Those Who Want to Be Led Versus Those Who Want to Be a Leader

There is a huge difference the way you lead someone who wants to be led and how you lead someone who wants to be a leader.

I have studied some psychological theory on personality differences and types. I’m certified to administer Myers-Briggs, but have worked with most of the more popular assessments. I generally agree with the theory behind these type tools. We can categorize certain personalities and traits together to help us understand ourselves and each other better.

For example, I am an introvert. That’s not really a question for me anymore, now that I understand the term. It helps me know how I relate to other people on a regular bases.

At the same time, I hold loosely to all these types – believing that ultimately every human is uniquely designed by their Creator. No assessment can ever fully capture who we are as individuals.

But I think understanding differences – and the broad categories of them – has often been helpful to me in leading people. As much as I want to individualize my leadership based on the people I’m attempting to lead, it does help to have some broad ways to understand people.

Which brings me to a very broad difference in leading people.

There is a huge difference the way you lead someone who wants to be led and how you lead someone who wants to be a leader.

It requires a different approach.

The person who wants to be led.

They desires structure. These people prefer to follow the rules. They want someone to tell them how you want something done. He or she needs more specifics and more details – and less ambiguities.

These types tend to stress more during times of uncertainty, but they tend to be more compliant and cause less conflict when the path ahead is clearly defined.

You need to know that and allow it to impact your leadership of them.

(BTW, I have found they can often make good leaders if they are given permission to do so. But they will wait for that permission.)

The person who wants to be a leader.

These people needs space to dream, freedom to explore, and permission to experiment. He or she desires less direction and more encouragement. They need to be given a target of what a win looks like and then left alone to script the way to success.

These people continually need new challenges. They get bored easily. These people may stir conflict on a team – intentionally or not – because they enjoy testing and pushing the boundaries.

(These people may be first chair potential leaders. You’ll keep them longer if you give them space.)

Again, these are generalizations, but there is nothing wrong with either person. Most teams need both types of team members. I have also found some people have seasons in their life where they float between preferring one or the other. And, of course, with either of these types there are huge variances within each of them. Again, everyone is unique.

The key is to know your team and the people you lead. The more we know the people we lead the better they are able to follow.

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Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Jim Pemberton says:

    There are people who are a balance between the two. Few leaders don’t have a leader they have to answer to, whether it be a higher boss or a board of directors. Even a senior pastor understands that he is held accountable by either other elders or a deacon body. Accountability isn’t normally what we would consider leadership, but it does serve a leadership function.

    Leaders who understand that they are to be led in some way demand a measure of reasonable structure from their bosses that provides for the freedom to lead properly within the boundaries of their authority. That’s a necessary balance.

    What irks me is when too little structure is provided to know how one’s leadership should contribute to the organization as a whole or too much structure is provided to allow the person to lead effectively. One example is a supervisor that isn’t allowed to discipline the associates who report to him and yet is expected to elicit from them a certain level of efficiency and morale. The structure doesn’t support either one of those things. Another example is a leader who is so micromanaged that they are accused of not respecting authority when they lead the way they are supposed to.

    • Ron Edmondson says:

      I totally agree with you, Jim. We need good structure – not controlling and not lacking. Thanks for your consistently good comments.

  • Larry says:

    Very helpful article, thank you. You are correct in recognizing the difference between people, those who want to be a led and those who want to be a leader. As an elder in my local church I often See the first category more often than the second. In fact, as we are working with this man towards leadership it is just as you have pointed out, waiting for permission. I believe he will make a good leader in our church and hope to see that materialize soon.

    • Ron Edmondson says:

      It is good of you to recognize this in the person so you can either give him permission – or encourage him to take the leap into leadership.

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