Build Great Teams By Finding Leaders Not Doers

I’M GOING TO TELL YOU A CLASSIC STORY I’VE HEARD several times. I can’t give credit because I have no idea where it originated, but it goes something like this: 

The owner of a car dealership was looking at his sales reports one day and noticed that Tom Phelps was outselling every other salesperson. Tom had been on the team just a short time, and yet he was closing sales left and right. In fact, in the previous month he doubled the sales of both Bob Jenkins and Laura Budowski, who had been known for years as the top-producing employees in the company.

Month after month, the owner watched this trend continue. He visited the sales floor and watched Tom work his magic. He was aggressive, but customers didn’t feel violated. He was friendly, but not in a way that was over-the-top. And perhaps most important, he had gained the respect of his coworkers, which is nearly impossible in a competitive selling environment.

The owner was seeing profits steadily increase. He wanted to find a way to take a little of who Tom was and infuse it in the rest of the company at all his dealerships. He also wanted to honor Tom for the value he was bringing to the company.

So after six months with a proven track record of outperforming every other employee in the history of the company, Tom Phelps was given a promotion. He was elevated to sales manager of his location, and also would oversee the sales managers at every other location. The owner couldn’t wait to see Tom’s enthusiasm and sales techniques catch fire across the entire company.

When the next month’s sales reports came out, the owner was a bit surprised. Sales were pretty flat. No increase at all. He excused it since Tom hadn’t really had a chance to get settled yet. Next month would be better.

And yet the following month the sales had actually decreased. By the fourth month sales were back to the level they were prior to when Tom arrived at the company. Eventually Tom resigned in frustration, having lost the respect of the owner and his associates.

What happened? The owner of this dealership made a classic mistake based on a faulty assumption. He assumed that because Tom was a good doer, Tom would also be a good leader. He took an amazing sales guy off the floor where he loved meeting people and stuck him in an office with no windows, and expected him to know how to reproduce himself in others.

Sounds ridiculous, right? And yet how many times do we make the same mistake when hiring staff? We have a guy who plays guitar and has a great voice, and when the church gets big enough that we can finally hire a worship leader, we ask this guy to join the team. That’s okay if we have the luxury of a budget that can afford paying a guy to play guitar and sing (or to be a doer), but if what we really need is someone who can build teams so we have twenty musicians at the end of the first year, then we may need to look for someone else.

At the church where I worked, when we needed to hire someone to oversee our IT department, it would have been natural to find someone who could administrate networks, fix computers, and write code. But it would not have worked to have that kind of person overseeing the more than 250 computers and devices that we supported. Instead, we found Jason Powell, a high school physics teacher who had a good understanding in all the areas of IT, but more than that, he had a proven track record of overseeing lots of people and building teams. Today, he’s not the guy who knows more than anyone else about computers. But because he is wired as a leader rather than a doer, he has built a team (with one staff member—the rest are volunteers).

This post may sound as if I place a higher value on leaders than doers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me clarify.

I’m not saying leaders are more valuable than doers. It is not about value; it is about role. When you have limited dollars, you need every penny to count. If you hire a staff member to do something, you get forty-five to fifty hours of productive ministry done every week. But if you hire people who can multiply themselves through recruiting volunteers and building teams, you might get two hundred, four hundred, or a thousand hours of productive work done every week.

I’m not saying there is no place for doers in a church or organization. We needed hundreds, even thousands, of doers in our church. We needed people to lead small groups, take care of the building, answer the phones, plan games for students, set up chairs, maintain equipment, tune sound systems, and so much more.

I’m not saying every position in your organization should be filled by a leader. Again, not true. Churches and businesses need far more doers than leaders. If every position were open only to a person who has been wired by God as a leader, then many of those people would leave unfulfilled. We need many people who are comfortable in the fact that God has wired them as doers, and who find their fulfillment in serving, loving, and helping.

I am saying that God has called the church to be effective. Churches have limited time and money, so it is especially important that every staff member hired brings the highest return for the kingdom of God in that community. This is the reason Ephesians 4 says the purpose of a pastor is “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (v.12). It is the job of pastors to equip. If the job of church leaders were to do the ministry, that verse would not be in the Bible.

Most staff positions should be filled by staff members who are leaders. It is only when a church begins to get large that it should consider hiring doers for such roles as helping maintain the facility or offering administrative assistance to a pastor.

This post is an excerpt from Chapter 71 of my book Simply Strategic Volunteers: Empowering People for Ministry.

Tim StevensComment