Leadership Is About Removing Obstacles

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Last week was a rich time of learning as I participated in a Doctor of Ministry intensive. One or our professors for the week was Dr. Jason Carthen (check out his web site). He introduced us to the Path-Goal Theory of Leadership.This theory was popularized by R. J. House and T. R. Mitchell. This is not a new concept, but it was new to me. As he described the role of the leader according to this theory I came to realize another aspect of servant leadership that is critical.

While the Path-Goal Theory is not exact, it often includes three basic steps: determine the employee and environmental characteristics, select a leadership style, and focus on motivational factors that will help the employee succeed.

One practical application of the Path-Goal Theory is the removal of obstacles by the leader that might stand in the way of any follower. This is a crucial role for any leader to play. If a leader truly sees that one of his or her primary functions is to raise up more leaders, then this aspect of the Path-Goal Theory should be a daily mandate.

But how does one practically go about removing the obstacles of followers, and thus empowering them to become potentially great leaders. I think there are three specific steps each leader can take.

1. Through Greater Personal Development  As a leader we can first seek to remove obstacles by providing great personal development. This usually begins with a 360 review process that will lead to a personal development plan. Every emerging leader needs this type of feedback rich environment to ensure their ongoing development. The personal development plan needs to be specific, largely focused on a a person’s strengths, and with specific measurable goals. It should also be accompanied by some monetary investment towards outside training programs that will add to the emerging leader’s skill development.

2. Through Providing Adequate Resources  Another key way to remove obstacles from your emerging leader’s path is by providing adequate resources in fulfilling their assigned responsibilities. A leader is in the unique position of steward. A leader needs to constantly think about what their followers need to get the job done. Those resources might include funding, tools or more people for their teams. Don’t ever forget that the most important resource you may provide on a daily basis is hope. Emerging leaders need a variety of resources to succeed and grow. Be sure that they have them.

3. Through Acting As A Sponsor For Those You Lead  A final way in which a leader can help remove obstacles from the path of an emerging leader is by providing sponsorship. Every emerging leader will one day need a good word provided on their behalf. This may be a word to a senior leader. This may be a word to a potential partner. This may be even a word on behalf of the emerging leader to that leader’s team. Sponsorship is an asset and a blessing that every established leader can gift to an up and coming leader. I guarantee you had someone act on your behalf somewhere along the way.

The Path-Goal Theory is about helping those that follow you, and have the potential to be good leaders themselves, by removing the obstacles that stand in their way from becoming truly great leaders.

Who do you have your sites set upon? What obstacles can you identify that are standing in their way of success? What are you going to do about it?

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  1. Great thoughts. Got to know Jason a little bit when he co-taught one of my modules at Bethel 7 or 8 years ago, but I think that was his first semester teaching there. Enjoyed him. Guys in our cohort took turns arm wrestling him so they could get documentation of arm wrestling an NFL player 🙂 Currently working on a lot of things related to succession planning and building a development culture so this was relevant and timely to read so thanks! btw – any chance you are joining the int’l theological consortium meetings in Manila next month?

    • Thanks Brian for the encouragement. I loved Jason–did not get to arm wrestle him though–not a good idea at this point in my life. I am not coming to Manila–but sounds like a great opportunity and gathering. You will have to fill me in.