How to Overcome the Three Leadership Bottlenecks

There are common barriers to growth in the leadership journey. These barriers usually act like bottlenecks–what I call “leadership bottlenecks.” They are limitations in progress created, often unintentionally, by the “narrowing” of a leaders thinking.

One of the classic leadership bottleneck stories in scripture is found in Exodus 18. People were standing in line, all day and night, to ask Moses questions about God’s will concerning their disputes. Moses would judge right from wrong and inform them of God’s law. This process repeated itself day after day until his father-in-law, Jethro, pointed out Moses’ bottlenecks and prescribed the appropriate changes. Moses was suffering from three specific leadership bottlenecks:

1. The Priorities Bottleneck – The priorities bottleneck occurs when a leader tries to cram too many priorities into the narrow space of his or her life and leadership. Jethro challenged this bottleneck head on when he told Moses “This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out, and the people right along with you. This is way too much for you–you can’t do this alone.” (Exodus 18:17-18, The Message). Jethro continued by outlining three priorities for Moses: Point Leadership, Teaching, and Leadership Development. Moses was to be “the people’s representative before God,” teach the people God’s law, and select and release capable leaders. That’s it! Nothing else! Next Step: Identify your essential priorities.

2. The Authority Bottleneck – The authority bottleneck occurs when a leader refuses to release decision-making power to others. The leader that has to make every decision–essentially becoming an authority hog–will never grow their church or organization beyond their own decision-making capacity. Eventually the number of decisions will overwhelm their capacity. Typically “authority hog leaders” do not trust their team to make the best decisions. These leaders are prone to give assignments without the authority to carry them out. Teams without decision-making authority are nothing more than researching and reporting assistants limited by the bottleneck of their leader’s “trust deficit.” Next Step: Identify trusted team members. 

3. The Delegation Bottleneck – When a leader hogs the authority, they will obviously experience a bottleneck in their willingness or ability to delegate opportunities to others. However, a delegation bottleneck can also occur when a leader lets “doing” overshadow “developing.” “Doer Leaders” have influence because of their ability to get the job done. Their bottom-line results speak for themselves. But “Doer Leaders” will always be limited by time. If they can’t get it done in 24 hours, it simply won’t get done. And nobody can maintain that kind of pace long-term. That’s why leaders must be “Developer Leaders.” Developer Leaders focus their time and energy on developing people. They understand that unless leaders are developed, they will always face a delegation bottleneck. Every opportunity requires a leader to run with it. When the leaders run out, delegation comes to an end and the opportunities fall into the chasm of unfulfilled dreams. Next Step: Shift from being a “Doer Leader” to a “Developer Leader” by delegating responsibility and authority to trusted team members. 

Questions: How have you experienced these leadership bottlenecks? What other bottlenecks have you observed in leadership?