How to Scale Your Leadership

So, you are a successful leader. God has been good to you, and your church, company, or non-profit is growing by leaps and bounds. Of course, as a visionary, you know there is much more you are called to reach. Perhaps your vision is for ten times the impact you are having now. Well, I have some news for you. A lot of the leadership practices and processes that brought where you are now will not get you where God’s vision says you should be. To get there, you will need “scalability,” that is, you will have to employ strategies that apply whether you lead ten or ten thousand.

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All Growth is Not Equal

Consider these facts about the International Leadership Institute. In 2004, we had 51 training events. In 2005, there were 82 trainings – a 61% growth rate. Last year, there were 962 events all over the world. Our goal for 2019 is a 10% growth, but even that, means more than 1,000 events. In our model, most of these trainings are initiated and led by our alumni with local resources. The ILI model can scale because it is not depending upon the international team raising funds or taking leadership for all the training that happens.

Applying this to Your Ministry

At ILI we learned early on that if the execution of training depended on outside funds, multiplication would never happen. There are other areas of scalability that it took longer to learn, but here are three essential practices of scalability. The absence of them will sooner or later slow down or stop your growth.

  1. Authority to Make Decisions. Of course, a few strategic decisions need to be made at the highest level, but if every decision is depending on top leadership, your business or organization will never scale. The further down the organizational chart your decisions are made, the more your leadership will scale. Here at ILI we don’t know about much of our regional training events until after the completion of the conferences.

  2. Autonomy to Contextualize. This is similar to decision making, but has to do with solving problems and adapting to local conditions. For years, our regional training was restricted to conferences done at a retreat setting, which were costly and difficult to organize. When we allowed our teams to adjust the event to their context, so long as they covered the prescribed content, multiplication exploded.

  3. Permission to Manage Laterally.  Vertical leadership is necessary for vision and general direction, but top-down management of day-to-day activities doesn’t scale. One of the reasons ILI grows so easily is because of lateral management, that is, our alumni build teams that develop other teams at their level. 

One of the books that greatly impacted ILI was “The Starfish and the Spider” by Ofi Brafman and Rob Beckstrom. The main theme of the book is decentralized leadership and they authors cite many decentralized organizations that are, in their words, “leaderless.” While I love the book, I disagree with the “leaderless” part. Actually, organizations that scale are “leader-filled.” When everyone is given permission to influence and execute the vision, leadership scales and explosive growth is possible.

How about your leadership? Are you on the way to hitting a ceiling or is your leadership scalable?