Good Leadership vs. Great Leadership

It was complete chaos.

A few summers ago, my husband and I took our two young sons and two of our nieces to the community pool. Our children spent most of their time in the ‘kiddie-slide’ area on the far side of the pool. At the top of the slide, a lifeguard would do their best to ensure that one enthusiastic little swimmer went down the slide at a time.

For some reason, however, the lifeguard was gone when our sons and nieces made their way to the top of the slide. Child after child with puddle jumpers and floaties on were pushing past each other, vying for their spot in line. It was not going well, as you could likely imagine.

From the bottom, I observed our 5 year-old niece step back, take in the situation, and then assume a position of control. She stood at the entrance of the slide, put her little arm and leg out to block the slide, allowed one child to go, ensured they reached the bottom safely, and then allowed the next child to go. Within minutes, she had taken a situation that was devolving into complete chaos and converted it to one where everyone was thriving.

An older boy came up to her and challenged her position and her system. He wanted to go regardless of what was happening because she was clearly “not a lifeguard.” She calmly explained to him that, “You can’t go until it’s your turn or you’ll hurt somebody.” He complied.

There was still no lifeguard in sight, but she had such wonderful control of the situation I decided to see what she would do next. Soon, a little girl her age came up to my niece. She asked if she could have a turn doing the lifeguarding. My niece was pretty loath to relinquish her position at the top of the slide.

I smiled to myself and made my way up the slide. I reached my niece, knelt down, and looked in her big brown eyes.

“Sweetheart, you’ve done a really amazing job leading everyone up here and keeping everyone safe. I’m so proud of you. Can you tell me what that little girl just asked you?”

“She asked me if she could have a turn… but this is my job.” she responded protectively.

“Gotcha. I understand that you’re really enjoying this – you’re so good at it! Do you want to know what will make you great at it?”

She perked up, “What?”

“You’ve inspired that little girl to try leading up here. Great leaders will always make space for other leaders to dream and give them opportunities to use their gifts. You could keep doing this, but then she wouldn’t get a chance to try. It’s up to you how you want to lead, beautiful.”

She thought for a moment, and then looked over at the little girl. She smiled and said, “Hey! Are you ready to lead this?” The little girl nodded and stepped up a little tentatively. My niece gave her a high five before she took a turn down the slide with a big smile on her face.

Good leadership can be inspiring, but fails to create opportunity for other leaders to step fully into their gifts. Great leadership will not only be inspiring, but it will relinquish opportunity for the sake of seeing others rise to the occasion. In order to do that, we need to realize there isn’t a scarcity of opportunity for us, understand what our role truly is, and know that those around us have great gifts to offer the world that advance His Kingdom.

I don’t want to just inspire or influence the people around me; I want to make space for them to rise to the occasion of all God has created them to be.

Who around you has potential to lead at your ‘water park’? What does it look like for you to make space for someone else to lead?

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