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5 Signs You’re a Lone Ranger Leader (And Can’t Grow a Team)


by Carey Nieuwhof: Everyone knows that Lone Ranger leaders rarely take their organization as far as leaders who can build a team.

But here’s the question no one really wants to ask—so am I a Lone Ranger leader?

Cue the awkward tension.

If you’re even asking the question, good for you. Most of the leaders who need to ask themselves tough questions won’t. Which means everyone else is asking the questions instead.

I know my tendency as a leader is to try to do everything myself, which is never a good idea.

The good news is it’s a tendency you can fight and overcome.

If you need some motivation, just know that your failure to grow a team will ultimately stifle your mission.

And with something like 85% of all churches having an attendance of fewer than 200 people, and over 90% of business staying small, there’s a ton at stake.

The leader who does everything themselves is a leader whose team ultimately accomplishes little.

So, how do you know if you’re a solo, Lone Ranger leader? Here are 5 signs you are.

1. You Think You Can Do It Better

Many solo leaders honestly think they can do things better than other people. And when you’re starting out, sometimes that’s true.

Your organization isn’t exactly swimming in graphic designers, web developers, project managers, team leaders and creative thinkers. Further, nobody thinks about the mission and the future as much as you. And you don’t have a lot of budget to hire those things out.

So you do them all yourself.

In the early stages of any church or organization, there is a lot of hands-on leadership for sure. You can’t just sit back and say “all I do is cast vision” when you have a church of 26 people.

But inside this idea that you can do things better is a fatal flaw.

First, you’re only actually good at a few things. Just because you can do graphic design doesn’t mean you should do it, unless it’s your principal gifting and the most important thing you can do to move the mission forward. Which, unless you’re a graphic design firm, it isn’t.

Second, even if you have people who are almost as good as you are in an area, you need to give them responsibility quickly.

Why? Because they’ll get better (or someone else will soon come along who is).

And, because you need to focus on what you can truly do best.

Chances are you are only deeply gifted at one or two things. Maybe you can preach in your sleep, or cast vision without thinking twice.

The problem is that if you don’t spend time on your gifts, you’ll use them but never develop them. And that means you’re cheating your gift.

If you really want to become world class at something, spend time developing that gift. Which will also mean you need to delegate so many other things.

After over two decades in leadership, I’ve realized I’m really only good at two things: communication and ideation. I can generate ideas and content, and I can communicate them well. Everything else falls off a steep cliff pretty quickly.

When I bring those gifts to any mission, I can help move the mission forward. When I try to do anything else, it’s almost always sub-par.

You’re not that different.

So what are you great at? Develop that, and let so much of the other stuff go.

2. You feel guilty letting go

Ah, you say, great theory. But I feel guilty letting go and giving all this work to other people.



Maybe you need some time in counseling to get to the root of that.

Listen, it’s not a unique problem. Many leaders feel guilty about giving assignments, tasks, and whole areas of responsibility to other people. But if that’s you, you really need to drill down on why that is.

Essentially your unwillingness to let go means you have all the gifts and no one else does.

And it means that you will refuse to let other people explore and develop the gifts God has given them.

Why would you feel guilty about letting people lean into their gifting?


3. You feel threatened by gifted people

If you get really honest with yourself (which I hope you do), you may realize that deep down you feel threatened by gifted people.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

You know what’s underneath that emotion? Insecurity. And unchecked, insecurity permanently stunts your growth and the growth of your organization.

There’s all kinds of ugliness in your insecurity. If you really go there, you’ll find fear, jealousy, anxiety and all kinds of nasty things.

So how do you battle your insecurity? By doing the opposite of what you feel like doing.

Welcome gifted people. Give them responsibility. Celebrate people who are more gifted that you are. And then hang on and trust God.

You’ll discover everyone gets better, including you.

4. You fear the people you delegate to will mess things up

But, you say, so I get gifted people into place and I let them go.

But what happens if they mess up or if they take things in the wrong direction? That’s why I need to stay in control.

Well, no. That will get you right back to doing everything yourself quickly and stunting the growth of your mission.

The fear you have of delegating and having people head off in the wrong direction is much easier to solve than you think because almost always that’s a clarity issue.

Teams align around clarity. Having a clear mission, clear strategy and clear values, clearly articulated means you can deploy many leaders and never have them run things off the rails.

In the absence of clarity, you will default to control because you worry that leaders will take your church or organization to places you don’t believe it should go. And the truth is, they will. Not because they’re bad people, but because you haven’t been clear.

So, if you want to release dozens or hundreds of leaders, your job is to state the mission, vision, and strategy clearly enough that it’s repeatable and reproducible for anybody other than you. In the absence of clarity, well-intentioned team members end up going rogue, not because they’re trying to be disloyal, but because you never clearly defined the destination.

The more clarity you have as a leader, the less you will feel a need to control anything.

5. You’re always overwhelmed

The final reason you’ll want to stay a Lone Ranger leader is that you’re so overwhelmed you feel like you can’t change anything. In fact, you can barely finish reading this blog post.

Solo leaders always feel overwhelmed because the mission is always bigger than they are.

Guess what? That will never go away unless you change.

The best way to deal with it is to start giving leadership away now anyway.

You will become overwhelmed because you’re trying to do it all yourself. That will never end though, and your mission will never grow or move forward.

Or you can be overwhelmed for a while because you’re opening up leadership to others. That’s an entirely different kind of overwhelming, and one that eventually goes away as leaders find their sweet spot and the mission grows.

So choose your overwhelm. The permanent kind stays because you’ll never delegate anything.

Or, dive into the overwhelm of deciding to grow a team and eventually find relief.

It’s your call.

Some Practical Help

Spotting, recruiting and developing leaders is a major reason so many churches never grow into their mission.

That’s why in my Breaking 200 online, on-demand, course, I spend two full units walking senior leaders and their teams through the practical steps they need to take to spot leaders in their church (yes they’re there…I promise you), recruit them and develop them so the mission doesn’t remain and one man or one woman show.

You can learn more and get instant access to Breaking 200 Without Breaking You here.

The course is designed for personal and team study so you can break the growth barriers that hold back way too many churches.

What Do You See?

What do you see as signs that you’re a solo leader?

Scroll down and leave a comment!


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