Green Light, Red Light

One of the realities of living in a large city is the abundance of busy intersections. It’s not unusual to have two congested intersections that are quite close together, both controlled by traffic lights. I was at one of those places recently, in three lanes of traffic, surrounded by cars, and a green light on the horizon. I started to go and then realized that the light immediately in front of me was red. It was the further light, at the next intersection, that was green.

For visionary leaders, the horizon is always full of green light opportunities. They see a wide variety of possibilities for their church or ministry or non-profit. Indeed, this is a vital role for a leader to play. Kouzes and Posner say it this way: “Leaders gaze across the horizon of time, imagining the attractive opportunities that are in store when they and their constituents arrive at a distant destination” (The Leadership Challenge). An organization without this kind of inspiration will fail to take new ground and can quickly slip into complacency or obscurity.

Visionary leaders, however, must also pay attention when red lights are in their immediate path. If you only look at the green lights on the distant horizon, you may quickly find yourself in a rear-end collision. Those red lights may be organizational fatigue or resistance to change or confusion over the vision. Red lights don’t mean that you have to stop forever, but they can’t be ignored. Sometimes the closest light isn’t red – it’s yellow. It may just be a caution warning you to slow down. Perhaps you need to develop your plans more fully or get more input before moving ahead.

Of course, some leaders struggle with this concept. Their skills and temperament make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to see those red lights. That’s the value of a trusted, capable second chair leader or close-knit leadership team. Unlike a car, the best organizations don’t have just one driver. They intentionally seek diverse and complementary gifts among their leaders.

So why not take this driving test today? How well do you see the lights? What would help you see them better?

Photo(s)/Resource(s): Mike Bonem

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