Leaders Clear Obstacles

ObstacleDave Odom, Executive Director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, recently explained an important yet often underdeveloped and under-appreciated aspect of leadership: clearing obstacles.  After leaders set vision and motivate people to move toward that vision, they must also be intentional about assisting people in moving forward by removing or helping to remove obstacles that emerge in their paths.

Odom explains:

In my experience, the senior management of larger organizations typically depends on the finance, human resources or communications department to keep the organization in line. In congregations, this role can be carried out by the treasurer, the personnel or finance committee, or the church secretary. Become a student of these folks.

Why do they ask the questions that they do? What instructions have they received, and what are the limits of their authority? How can I address their concerns in a way that adds value to the solution? With some reflection and the building of relationships, those who appear to be obstacles can become collaborators.

It is possible to go around these sorts of institutional obstacles, but that works only a few times. If a leader intends to work in a system for years, it is better to learn from the resistance and develop strategies for addressing the personal and organizational concerns that can appear to be obstacles yet prove to be resources.

So What?

Effective leaders want those they lead to succeed.  Such leaders must build and work to maintain trusting relationships that welcome honest feedback, including the sharing of obstacles people face.  Questions like “what stands in your way that you can’t seem to move or get around?” or “how can I help you move forward toward ____?” are key.

  • Share a time when a leader intervened and moved an obstacle that allowed you to achieve something that seemed impossible when the obstacle was in place.
  • Offer a tip to leaders that you think will help leaders lead well by identifying and removing obstacles that impede the progress of people who seek to carry out their vision.

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