5 Reasons That Make It Difficult To Empower Others To Lead

It is surprisingly common for leaders to struggle with the process of truly empowering others to lead.

It’s easier to talk about empowering leaders than to actually do it, therefore, practicing and debriefing how it’s going will serve you and your church well.

We can all gain insight into our culture and leadership when we believe we’ve empowered someone to lead, but that person has a different perspective on what actually transpired.

What if they don’t feel empowered? Now what?

First, that doesn’t necessarily indicate poor leadership. Still, it does reveal something that needs attention and reminds us that to effectively empower a leader; it takes time, intentionality, and long-term effort.

Further, empowerment is often thought of as a one-directional transaction from the one who has authority to the one it’s transferred to. That’s a faulty perception.

Empowerment is not merely a one-way transaction of authority; it’s a two-way process of trust and accountability. Empowerment is not a one-moment-and-done decision. It’s a living, breathing relationship.

Empowering others is not always easy, nor does it come naturally to all leaders, but it is absolutely doable in every organization.

The reason that developing and empowering others to lead is so important is that your church will never realize its vision without more and better leaders.

If you can achieve all that your church dreams to accomplish with only the leaders you already have, your vision is too small.

My hunch is that God has something bigger in mind – there are so many more people to reach. So it’s not about a number, it’s about one more person and then one more person, and you continue praying and working to reach one more person for Christ.

There are concrete steps to empowering a leader, but it always begins with two things.

  • Your willingness to transfer some of your influence and authority.
  • Your intentionality to always have the next leader in mind and be willing to develop them. Empowerment is not a grab-and-go deal.

5 Reasons That Make It Difficult To Empower Others To Lead

1) It’s difficult for you to trust and let go.

After you have worked hard, prayed much, and built a ministry of any size, it’s not always easy to hand over the keys for even part of it.

That’s understandable, you really care about it and want it to continue to go well, but it’s not good for the continued growth and effectiveness of the ministry.

If you continue to personally hold most of the reigns to leadership and make most of the decisions for the church, campus, department, etc., you become a lid to your ministry.  

Letting go and trusting others to lead is not easy, but it’s necessary for the health and future of your church.

The process of empowering others starts with trust. Will you trust someone with the responsibility enough so you can let go and let them lead?  

Will you hand them the keys so they can lead?

Handing someone the keys to part of your job doesn’t mean you no longer care or that you’re not leading. In fact, it takes you to higher levels of leadership, starting with selecting and developing new leaders.

2) Your staff culture does not invest well in development.

Any church with an unhealthy culture and or lacks a commitment to develop staff (staff can be volunteer and paid) will struggle to empower their staff to lead.

Staff members on a team like that can perform ministry tasks (the doing of ministry) but not actually lead a ministry forward.

There are two foundational concepts to leadership development: simplicity and consistency. Don’t overcomplicate it and design something that you will remain consistent in over an indefinite period of time.

Leadership development is a little like prayer and tithing. It’s not complicated, and it’s hard to do it wrong, but you have to be committed at a heart level and stay in the game for actual results.

Here’s a coaching tip – if your staff culture is unhealthy, start there by investing your energy to improve it. Don’t jump to leadership development first. Instead, work on getting your staff honest, trusting, positive, believing the best, honoring, and aligned to one vision first.

3) You are hesitant to give real authority.

Giving real authority is connected to the first point about trusting with responsibility, but there is a difference.

You can trust someone with the responsibility to lead but still withhold the authority necessary to lead.

That doesn’t seem to make sense, I know, but it’s very common.

Essentially that means you give someone a project or a promotion and maybe even a new title. Still, you fail to give them authority equal to the responsibility that allows them to make decisions and get the job done.

Again, this is not a binary transaction.

Empowerment is an ebb and flow of trust, communication, and accountability, all wrapped in an honest, healthy relationship, living inside a healthy culture.

Empowerment is the right mix of freedom and responsibility.

There are rare circumstances where you may need to retract empowerment. Let’s look at that in the next point.

4) There is a lack of clarity when it comes to expectations.

The fourth reason that makes it difficult to empower is a lack of clarity regarding expectations.

If you have trusted wisely, trained well, and given appropriate levels of authority, you will rarely need to retract empowerment from someone. Clear expectations will help you know when you do.

How can someone lead under your direction if they don’t know what you expect?

It’s not enough to say, “grow the ministry.” That phrase can be interpreted in many different ways.

Here’s a three-step process to clear expectations.

  • First, make the expectations crystal clear in writing, and have a conversation with the person you are raising up.
  • Second, give that person an opportunity to provide input, ask questions, even shape or make an adjustment or two.
  • Finally, the two of you then come to a full agreement on the final written list of responsibilities and expectations within those responsibilities.

5) There is a lack of love for and belief in the person’s full potential.

The final reason, a lack of love for and belief in a person’s potential, is arguably the most devasting miss of all.

That said, let’s be candid; your love and care alone don’t guarantee someone’s success, but it is foundational to your belief in them which makes a huge difference.

It matters because it determines your level of heartfelt investment.

On a personal note, those who had believed in me before I believed in myself absolutely contributed to me reaching my potential.

How about you?

Has someone believed in you that helped you dig deeper and lead larger than you could have on your own?

When the power that comes from you believing in someone is connected to their growth from intentional development, empowerment can truly unleash greater leadership potential.

6 thoughts on “5 Reasons That Make It Difficult To Empower Others To Lead”

  1. Thanks Dan, #5 reminds me of nurture… leading on your Mother’s knee. ‘Mom LOVES You so much, she feels You in her heart, empowered by Your own heart to move forward and upward.’ I’d love to hear your thought about the power of nurture. Thank You, I’m anxious to learn.

    1. Joe,
      The power of nurture is substantial. It not only speaks to the heart of the person you care about, but also, in part, determines how much you invest in that person.

  2. Dan, as I read the article I thought about what John Maxwell wrote about nurturing, developing, and equipping in the book “Developing The Leaders Around You”.

    As I reflected on the article, I was reminded of Joseph and Moses. I realized Joseph had been thrown in a pit by his brothers and then became a leader. I realized how God used Joseph who was a foreigner in incredible ways. He had light colored skin and red hair in a world Egyptians who did not look anything like him. Moses had the best education and later spent 40 years in Midian as a shepherd. As I thought about what they learned, I reflected on what I learned years ago when I worked in the fields when I was young with others who didn’t speak English. I had no idea how God was going to use the experiences I had in the fields later in life. I learned a lot about leadership in the fields, and when it was my time to lead I saw what God did. I knew what it was like to be a worker in the fields.

    We may know God is in charge of everything, but we must be as workers in the field doing what God wants us to do. I believe one of the key principles of leadership in the New Testament is proven leadership skills. Proven leadership skills starts and ends with humility. Proven leadership skills start with a focus on helping others to be better by raising them up to be better than they thought possible. Of course, there are other biblical qualities which must be shown such as compassion for others etc.

    Over the years I have counseled people on how to make others better when they are at a low position. Often the conversation starts with the person thinking that if only they were in charge they would have the authority to tell people what to do and more would get done. There is no truth to that at all. Then when I ask them to tell me about the teachers they had, they soon realize it is not so much who is in charge but how they lead. Leadership is demonstrated every day by how someone treats others.

    One of the best pastors I have known, had been dismissed from a church and he was so depressed he had to go to a hospital. Because he needed to make some money to pay his bills he went back to a job he had worked at earlier in his life. About six months later he decided to go to church. It was that church who helped him get going again. Later they asked him to start a church. That church start became many. He knew the church is a place for sick people to get well. When I visited the church shortly after he started it was no less than amazed.

    1. Hi Gerald,

      Great insight and story. Love the illustration asking about one’s teachers… that’s a quick way to understand who cares and who doesn’t and the great power in that.

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