Leadership: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

by Larry Hehn on February 11, 2013

leadershipI’ve always been a music buff, especially the “classic rock” genre. Growing up in Toronto in the 1970’s, my transistor radio was tuned in to local AM radio station 1050 CHUM for all the latest rock and roll hits. I still remember DJ Tom Rivers, who signed off his broadcast time with the slogan, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!”

Decades later, his slogan still strikes a chord with me, since I’ve always been concerned about which one of those three God is calling me to do.

Do you know someone who should be leading, but isn’t? Do you know someone who should be following, but isn’t? Do you know someone who just needs to get out of the way?

Could any one of those someones be you?

For four years a friend of mine, Marc, helped plant and pastor a new church. At the end of those four years he realized it had progressed as far as his leadership would take it. Marc loves his people. He swallowed his pride and made the difficult, painful decision to “get out of the way” so someone else could continue what he had started. That is the mark of a true leader. I can’t even begin to describe how much I admire him for that.

Another friend of mine was in virtually the same situation. He is a good man with many talents, but leadership is not one of them. Still, he assumed a position of leadership. He gave it his all, and took his young church as far as his ability would allow. But then, perhaps unaware of his limitations, he stayed in that position and refused to get out of the way.

It resulted in a slow and painful death spiral that left many good families hurt and disillusioned, physically, mentally and spiritually spent. What an unfortunate ending for something that started with so much hope and promise.

With those examples clearly in mind, last year I stepped out of a leadership role in the young adult ministry at our church and allowed it to take a whole new direction, under new leadership. For a while it felt like I was admitting defeat.

But then I realized…

Not everyone is called to be a leader, and that’s ok. We glorify God by using the talents and opportunities He has given us, and also by making room for others to use theirs. Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing when to lead, when to follow, and when to get out of the way.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:6-8

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

bill (cycleguy) February 11, 2013 at 6:11 am

You hit on something really important Larry. It is hard to admit limits. As in I have reached it. We have been so conditioned to be failures if we don’t take things to the next level that we automatically think we have. But as you have so deftly pointed out such is not the case. Leadership can be seen as stepping aside. I think you showed humility (an important quality of leadership) by stepping aside.
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Larry Hehn February 13, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Thanks, Bill. Having those two examples to draw from were very helpful in making the decision. That and plenty of prayer!


Chris February 11, 2013 at 9:53 am

Hey Larry,

I’ve been told on several occasions that I should be a Pastor because people like my public speaking abilities (on the few occasions I’ve used them). However, I always disagreed with them on this. I might enjoy the occasional chance to speak in front of people, but being a Pastor carries many other responsiblities that I feel I’m not gifted in…

I’m not really the leadership type. I’m generally more of the “do what someone tells me to do” type.. 🙂

I’m pretty sure someone else could do a much better job leading a flock of Jesus’s people than I would. But I’m willing to help and encourage them as they do it.
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Larry Hehn February 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Ooh yes, there’s a lot more to pastoring than being a good speaker. Working at something that isn’t your gifting or calling can be downright painful. It’s good to have a healthy assessment of what (and where) your vocation is. Thanks, Chris!


Julie Stewart February 11, 2013 at 11:17 am

Ah Larry — how timely your message! I have been shuffled around on project after project at work that it has affected my sense of self. It was my wise boss who said, “What are you waiting for? Why are you waiting for someone else to lead you who when you know what needs to be done?”

I struggle with taking on the role of leader if I haven’t been duly elected. But sometimes you have to make the choice to “step-up” for the betterment of the task at hand, or the group involved.

Finding your role, whether to rise to leader, or step aside and let someone else lead – still takes strength.

Another great post Larry. Thank you.
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Larry Hehn February 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Thank you, Julie. Sometimes all that’s needed is for one person to step up and take the reins.


Mark February 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Great post, Larry. As I was reading the post the first thing I thought of is how the Lord said while we are all one body in Christ, we have different parts and functions. So very true. How neat that we were created that way – if we are all left arms this old planet would be mighty boring!! By the way, I totally relate to the classic rock thing. Grew up a PK but loved it then and still love it now – at 49 years young and holding 🙂


Larry Hehn February 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Great point, Mark. The body needs every part. Rock on!


Juan Cruz Jr February 13, 2013 at 8:41 am

Larry, I’ve learned how “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way”. I know when my skillset is not suitable for job at hand. Yesterday was a prime example. I had my team leader lead a conference call with a customer on a topic that while I have general knowledge, I didn’t know all the details. As the conference call went out, I thought to myself, yep, I made the right choice. There are other examples like that. I certainly do not want to be a leader that hinders progress, just because my pride tells I should do it all, when I know that I can’t.
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Larry Hehn February 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Good call, Juan. It’s not fun to watch someone try to hang onto a leadership role that they aren’t suited for.


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