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Previously I wrote a post on how to create environments which attract and retain first-chair leaders in a second-chair position. Read that post here.
The post was well-received, but as expected, I received numerous questions after the post. The most common had to do with how to spot a first-chair leader—or when a second-chair leader should consider being a first chair.
A former intern of mine had a similar question. He's a great young man, with a bright future ahead of him. I'm so proud to call him friend.
Here's what he asked:
"How long do you typically recommend a young first-chair leader sit in the second chair? Obviously it depends on the individual and the leader, but in general there is always more to learn. What process would you go through to evaluate when the young leader seems ready to branch out? Thanks! Miss sitting in the chair under you!"
I told him I was working on a post. I decided to think through some of my own experiences and some of the observations I've made over the years. Frankly, some are based on frustrations I've experienced and certainly I've observed or even caused others to feel.
Let me make clear, as if you didn't know, this is a subjective post. I couldn't write a post that would fully answer the question for every person. I can only share some principles I think could help a leader discern if they're ready or if they need to consider a first-chair position. If you were sitting down with me to talk through this issue, I'd probably advise you to think through some of these.
Here are seven considerations of when you may need to be a first-chair leader:
1. You can't seem to be satisfied with leadership you are trying to follow. I learned years ago one way to discern the gift of teaching—I'm always thinking, "I could teach this better"—you may have the gift of teaching waiting to be expressed. The same is often true of potential first-chair leaders. I've talked with some leaders serving under tremendous first-chair leaders who were still continually frustrated. Sometimes it's not the person they are leading, but an indicator they need to try leading on their own—at least for a season.
2. You are always pushing past the current limits set for you. You keep hitting a lid. First-chair leaders (and many second-chair leaders) hate to be capped to a level of achievement. If this is continually happening to you—and frustrating you—it may be time for to move chairs.
3. You have a different vision than you are being allowed to live. Let's face it, any healthy organization has a defined vision—one of them—sometimes a few smaller ones which support the one. But, if you have a personal vision which doesn't fit anywhere in the mix this doesn't necessarily mean your vision is wrong—or theirs. It may just mean you need to go pursue the vision you feel God has given you.
4. You are dreaming big dreams without an outlet to realize them. Let me be honest, sometimes you have to start something if you want it to be "your" dream. Let me also be clear, I'm a leader, but also a pastor. So the pastor in me says to make sure it's a God-given dream, but there are times God has something He wants you to do. Not that you will accomplish it on your own, but you may have to be the one to lead the effort. This is sometimes done from a second-chair position, but frequently, if you keep feeling setbacks along the way, it may be you need to change chairs.
5. You are ready to handle first-chair issues—including criticism. This is a big one. I chose to mix it here among the others, because it's a harder one to accept. This is one of those "you won't fully understand until you experience it" kind of things in life. When you lead from a first-chair position there is a unique weight on your shoulders which can't be fully appreciated until you sit in the chair. And no first-chair leader doing anything of value is removed from criticism. Leadership involves change—leading people somewhere new. This isn't always neat, tidy or even fun. Some days are harder than others. Some days—in fact, some seasons—there appear to be more critics than supporters. And by the way, this can happen when things are going great overall. Are you ready for this? It requires a gut-check, honest conversation with yourself, and perhaps with others you trust to speak into your life.
6. You are a self-initiator. Do you take the initiative to pursue something new or do you tend to wait until someone spurs you? First-chair leaders often feel the need—even the calling—to move forward while everyone else is comfortable sitting still.
7. You influence others. This is another place where self-inspection is important. Do people seem to look to you for direction or insight? Ask yourself, are others following you naturally? In my experience, if people won't follow you without the first-chair position they probably aren't going to follow you—short of force—if you move into the first chair.
This post is intended to help. Actually, I hope it helps the first-chair leaders who see people in second chairs around them who may need a little encouragement—even to switch chairs—or to be patient where they are at the time. I hope it encourages some second-chair leaders to self-evaluate, ask hard questions, spend some time with God and others and discern their next steps.
There is no guarantee you're ever ready to be in a first-chair position. Again, no post could do this for you, but your response to some of these considerations may help you decide if you fit some of the profile of many first-chair leaders I know.
You may recall my former intern asked the question "when," I closed my reply by telling him I don't think there is a certain time, but there is a certain maturity for which I would look. And I think we often know if we are ready, but sometimes need someone to affirm it in us. Don't be afraid to ask someone to speak into your life.
You'll never be fully prepared for a first-chair position, any more than we are ever prepared for what's "next" in our life. But, as has been eloquently said so many times before—where God calls you, He equips you.
Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit ronedmondson.com.
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